A friend of SCM, Fred Smith (not his real name), climbed a ladder to clear the gutters around his home from an accumulation of leaves. He over-reached and fell about 6 to 8 feet. Not a great fall. But Fred was injured all the same. In addition to the expected bumps and bruises, he shattered his ankle, and was unable to walk or work for many months.
OSHA estimates that roughly 35% of all workplace fatalities result from falls from heights. The World Health Organization estimates that in the U.S. each year, there are more than 164,000 hospital emergency room-treated injuries. Annually about workplace 300 deaths are caused by falls from ladders. Most ladder-related deaths are from falls of 10 feet or less.
Almost all of us have done some work from a ladder, either at home or at work. We’ve changed a lightbulb, painted a wall, retrieved a box from a top shelf, climbed up to a higher working platform, or like Fred, cleaned our gutters. And in doing so, we were at risk of falling.
The first consideration when it comes to ladder safety is whether we need to use the ladder at all. Can the work we need to do be accomplished some other way? Can we bring the work to ground level? Or is there some mechanical means that can accomplish a job? One SCM client had a gauge on a tank about 10 feet above ground that needed to be read occasionally. They were climbing a ladder to accomplish the job until one young engineer realized that the gauge could be moved to ground level. The risk in climbing a ladder for that one task was avoided by moving the gauge.
Could something else be used that would be safer than a ladder? The same client that moved the gauge needed to do some repair work on a higher platform. In the past, workers climbed ladders, one person at a time, to access the platform, hauling up their tools. One day, they realized they could use a manlift to allow several workers with their tools to access the platform. Less risk was involved in the use of the manlift as an elevator.
But there are times when ladders can’t be avoided. We must use them and to do it safely, there are some guidelines we must follow. Here’s a few tips:
Your body should be centered on the ladder, so your belt buckle is between the side rails and never above the top rung.