Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Ladder Safety

I'm a short guy. I also work in the construction industry, which means I pretty much live my life on a ladder. While ladders are wonderful for accessing high places, they also can be rather dangerous. Like most things, that danger can be mitigated with some basic safety precautions.

I'll start by telling a cautionary tale: Some time back, I had to get into an attic with an entrance door at an odd height. It was just tall enough that getting in via a 6' ladder wasn't an appealing idea, but just low enough that an 8' ladder was too tall. Being inventive and fearless, with a get-it-done attitude, I leaned the 8' A-frame ladder against the wall at a too-shallow angle and scampered up toward the door. Just as my upper body got into the space, my weight shifted enough that the ladder chose to no longer stay in place. The ladder hit the floor, and I landed on my ribs, halfway into the door. I then slipped and hit my arm, and slipped further until I was hanging by my hands and able to drop to the floor. Other than a couple bruised ribs and my pride, I was relatively unhurt, but it could have been far, far worse.

According to a 2014 report by the CDC (the most recent data I could find), ladder falls cause over 100 deaths per year, and almost 50,000 injuries in 2011. That figure only counts injuries treated by hospital emergency departments, so the actual number is probably much higher. In addition, over 15,000 of those injuries caused employees to lose at least one day of work.

Examining what went wrong after an incident is a huge part of job site safety programs, and is a great way to learn and prevent future accidents in your personal life as well. Looking at my own incident, I made multiple mistakes that led to my fall.

  1. I leaned a stepladder against a wall. Most A-frame stepladders aren't designed for this and can slip and fall just like mine did. 
  2. I also leaned it against the wall at a terrible angle, which encouraged it to fall.
  3. I should have had my co-worker brace the ladder while I was climbing it. This is a good practice when you're transferring your weight from a ladder to an elevated work area. Even set up properly, ladders are not incredibly stable, and can move or tip when their load is off-center.

After looking at my mistakes, some changes were made in how we accessed that area. By turning the ladder 90 degrees to the left, we could set it up normally. It was a bit more awkward going through the access door, but the ladder was more stable. I also got my co-worker to support the ladder any time I have to move on or off it to an elevated area. Generally, this isn't a problem, but professional paranoia keeps me a professional.

OSHA, the arbiters of working safely in the USA, publishes a comprehensive list of ladder safety rules. They also publish rules for almost any job site safety concern you can think of. Study them, think ahead, and you can prevent serious injuries or even death.

Be aware, be safe, and be smarter than me.


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