Ladder safety is often an afterthought in a rush to finish the task. Ladders are seen as everyday objects that do not receive more serious consideration in use, but the numbers show how huge of a risk falls are. From 2008-2010, accidents jumped from 500,000 to 724,000, as estimated by the CPSC, that is almost 2,000 people hurt each day!
It is important to realize the functionality of ladders has not changed in 100 years, but the specifications and designs have. Many people still use ladders with an old school approach that is no longer applicable. By investigating the statistics, ladder injuries happen in three main ways: overexertion from handling ladders can cause sprains, the size or type of ladder is not taken into account, and overreaching or poor setup leads to falls which can be very serious or even fatal.
A surprising half of known accidents come from not knowing the risk in picking the wrong ladder. Lighter materials cause less strain, but a ladder that is heavy and too short is likely to cause overreaching in favor of easier ladder transport. When the ladder is not set up correctly, the resulting accidents are the most costly, permanently crippling individuals or ending lives.
For stability, people need to stay directly between the sides of the ladder, but this is rarely adhered to, and thus injuries and falls happen. This seems to be an unavoidable issue people will keep on violating, so ladders must be designed around this violation of safety.
Another hazard comes from uneven ground in the environment. Just being one inch off the base can put the top of the ladder very off center and prone to tipping. Ouch! OSHA instructs “digging” out the high side versus the low side of the ladder which is safer. There are some options to level the legs but it seems they only add weight and little to no stability. There are some obvious design flaws which can be improved upon. Stability could be increased by over 600% by including outriggers to an extension ladder with leveling.
The rule with moving up and down ladders is to maintain 3 points of contacts, both feet and one hand, or both hands and one foot. While OSHA does not say portable ladders have to meet the “6-feet-and-above tie off” compliance, many companies have implemented rules as low as 4 feet. Some companies do not even use ladders at all!
Design can continued to be improved by adding in a handrail system and adjustable fiberglass to stepladders. Additionally, one would work in a caged platform with a closed off scaffolding. With “aerial safety cages” the three points of contact rule is not necessary, allowing productive use of both hands. This cage design not only increases safety, but allows employees to work faster without consequence. Of course, there is also an adjustable base to handle stairs or uneven ground.
For more on ladder safety, check out The American Ladder Institute’s free safety training, something others often charge a fee for!