Fred’s Story

 In 2021, Tip of the Week

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:

1. Use the right ladder for the job. Portable ladders are rated by the amount of weight they can hold. A ladder that is rated 1AA can hold up to 375 pounds. If you are an adult male and are using a heavy tool, that might be the ladder you need. A ladder that is rated 1A only holds up to 300 pounds, and one that is rated 1 holds up to 250 pounds.
2. Make sure the ladder is in good condition. Inspect the sides and rungs, feet and hinges before you use it. If it is not in good condition, have it repaired or replaced before it is used.
3. Choose a ladder that is tall enough. You may have heard that you should not stand on the top two rungs of a ladder because it is dangerous and puts you off balance. Why do people do that? Because they are trying to do a 10-foot job from a 6-foot ladder. Make sure the ladder will get you to the height you need.
4. Use the ladder for the intended purpose. A-frame step ladders should not be leaned against a wall and used as extension ladders. Metal ladders should not be used where there is a chance of contacting electrical current. Etc., etc., etc…
5. Follow a few basic ladder safety rules. (Kirstie, you can make these into bullet points when you upload this. It screws the formatting to do the bullet points before uploading.)
Only allow one person on a ladder at a time.
Wear shoes with clean, nonskid soles when climbing ladders.
Face the ladder while climbing up or down and hold the side rails with both hands.
Carry tools up or down on a belt or with a rope or hoist, not in your hands.
If you must work from a ladder work with one hand on the ladder, keeping your tools in a hanger or holder.

Your body should be centered on the ladder, so your belt buckle is between the side rails and never above the top rung.

To learn more, here’s a Toolbox Topic on ladder safety.
Fred is doing better now. But he tells everyone he knows to be safe while using ladders, at home or at work.
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