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July 20, 2011

Study of Workplace Ladder Falls Offers Safety Insights

OSHA ladder safety sign
A survey of U.S. workers injured by falls from ladders identifies common activities that often lead to injuries - and offers areas to target for fall prevention.

In a study of 306 injured workers who were treated in emergency rooms, 51% of falls occurred when using step or trestle ladders, 40% when using extension or straight ladders, and 9% while using other ladder types (rolling, etc.). The workers were primarily from construction, installation, maintenance and repair professions. Fifty-percent of the workers had <3 years of job experience; however 31% had >10 years.

At the time of their fall, 51% of workers were standing or sitting while performing work directly from the ladder- most often installing, hanging an item or performing a repair. Another 28% were climbing down the ladder, while 11% were climbing up. Ladder movement was the most reported cause of falls (40%), but lost balance and foot slips / missed rungs were also common. Environmental conditions played a role in <10% of cases.

Injuries were most frequently to the arm, elbow or shoulder, followed by the head, neck or face. Diagnoses were primarily fractures, strains, sprains, bruises or abrasions. Ladder falls comprise 16% of all US workplace fall-related fatalities.

Good targets for ladder safety intervention:

  • Tasks involving less than three points of contact with the ladder
  • Proper ladder set-up, such as anchoring or tying off the top of the ladder
  • Sitting or facing away from the ladder rungs/steps
  • Descending from the working position

Best practices for ladder users include:

  • Using three points of contact at all times on the ladder
  • Pausing for several seconds with the head in a neutral position before descending, to help restore balance
  • Looking at the next lower step/rung before moving the foot that will be placed on it
  • Facing the ladder at all times and keeping the body within the side rails
  • Following manufacturer recommendations on maximum working height
The study is available online from the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health.

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