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Ladders: Tools of the Trade or Tragedy Waiting to Happen?

Ladders may be tools of the trade for construction and maintenance workers, but they are also some of the most dangerous pieces of equipment on job sites in America. Each year, thousands of people are injured and hundreds more die when they fall from ladders. Lack of safety training, using the wrong ladder for the job, and working with damaged or poorly designed ladders are the most common reasons for ladder accidents.

Highlighting the Dangers

Data collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) shows that approximately 90,000 people receive treatment in hospital emergency rooms each year following a fall from a ladder. Further, approximately 700 workers die as a result of falls from heights. In some cases, the distances these workers fall is just a few feet. Most of those who are injured suffer their injury when they fall from scaffolding or ladders. In all, workplace falls are responsible for roughly 15% of all workplace fatalities. Of those who fall and are injured, approximately 32% suffer a bone fracture.

Causes of Falls From Ladders

Roughly 50% of falls from ladders occur when the individual is carrying something as they climb. For instance, a toolbox, can of paint, or bucket of materials. This is an inherently dangerous activity as it changes the individual’s center of gravity and eliminates their ability to use both hands to grip the ladder as they climb. Additionally, as the individual climbs the ladder, there is an unequal distribution of weight on the ladder that can cause it to sway back and forth which can cause it to topple over.

Other causes of ladder accidents on construction sites include using the wrong ladder for the task at hand. This can include using a ladder with an insufficient height or weight rating. Similarly, using the ladder incorrectly can increase the risk of an accident. For example, failing to properly secure the ladder against the wall or failing to ensure the ladder is standing on a firm, level surface. These negligent acts negatively impact the ladder’s stability and are an accident waiting to happen.

Ladders are also subject to significant wear and tear on the worksite. Damaged ladders can snap, crumple, or collapse if the damage is not repaired. Further, ladders that are repeatedly used beyond their design limits can develop cracks within the metal, wood, or plastic that can lead to sudden failure.

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