The history of human innovation for working at height dates back centuries. Scaffolding – first depicted in drawings from ancient Greece in the 5th century BC – was fashioned from wood secured by rope knots. Then, in 1862, American carpenter John H. Basely invented the first patented folding wooden stepladder. While designs have evolved over the years, both scaffolding and ladders continue to be hazardous for workers.

Dangers of working at height

According to a CDC report, 20 percent of workplace injuries from falls involve a ladder.1 That statistic surges to 81 percent in the construction industry. In addition, more than 90,000 people receive emergency room treatment for ladder-related injuries each year.

Falls-from-height violations ranked three separate times in OSHA's Top 10 List of Violations for 2019. Fall protection ranked first with 7,014 citations, scaffolding was third with 3,228 and ladders sixth with 2,766 citations. As unsetting as these statistics are, they can also take a significant financial toll on employers in the areas of compensation and lost productivity.

Cost of occupational injuries

The costs of on-the-job injuries can be staggering. According to the 2019 Liberty Mutual Safety Index, serious, non-fatal injuries cost $189.81 million each week in the construction industry.2 The number one cause was a fall to a lower level – accounting for 25.29 percent of construction injuries and totaling $2.5 billion in compensation.

Unfortunately, hundreds of fatal falls occur each year. The National Safety Council estimates a fatal injury at work costs companies over $1 million per fatality.3 These numbers can be reduced by using safer alternatives for working at height.

Variety of options

OSHA safety guidelines state that three-point (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) contact must be maintained on a ladder when climbing.4 Low-level access lifts allow operators to use both hands for enhanced work confidence and a 360-degree range of motion.

Low-level access lifts can offer a safer alternative to ladders and scaffolding that deliver a maximum work height of 20 feet. The ability to carry additional equipment on the platform means fewer trips up and down ladders, which can significantly reduce fatigue – in addition to reducing the possibility of trips or falls. It also enables an ergonomic work position that reduces strain on the body and helps lower musculoskeletal injury risk.

These lifts can further improve productivity by reducing the time it takes to assemble scaffolding. Compact footprints also make them easier to store, along with freeing up valuable space on the job site. There are several types of low-level access lifts to support a wide range of industries and applications.

Personal portable lifts can be easily rolled through a facility and assembled or disassembled quickly, allowing workers to access catwalks, landings and other hard-to-reach areas. Powered vertical low-level access lifts combine height and reach with low ground bearing pressure, making them optimal for use on sensitive floors and when the need to move them between floors using elevators is required.

Regulations drive need for safer solutions

As OSHA, ANSI and other regulatory groups continue to implement stricter regulations to enhance worker safety on the job site, there will be a greater need for safer solutions when working at height. Incentives may soon be in place for construction companies that replace ladders or implement zero-ladder policies in an attempt to reduce worker injury.

With their ability to provide greater safety to workers and help mitigate the costs of occupational injuries, low-level access lifts will continue gaining popularity on the job site. Available in a variety of configurations, low-level access products offer contractors an alternative to ladders and scaffolding to help minimize slips, trips and falls associated with more traditional methods of working at height.