Construction Fall prevention

Preventing ladder injuries – one step at a time

Organizers designate March as National Ladder Safety Month

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Photo: sturti/iStockphoto

Ryan Moss never wants to hear a story about a person falling off a ladder. Each tale is as painful as it is preventable.

Yet Moss knows the best way to confront the issue is to start a conversation. As president of the American Ladder Institute, he has met hundreds of safety professionals from across the country.

“We just listened and tried to really … understand the problem in-depth,” Moss said. “I talked to a safety professional we brought into our facility who said his best friend with two little girls fell off an extension ladder, and it killed him. It left these two little girls without a father.

“I have seen grown men with big, burly beards who have been in the safety professional world cry as they talked about going to the hospital and hearing men’s wives say, ‘This was your responsibility to make sure he was safe. What happened?’ It’s just a lot of experiences talking to people and recognizing that this is a really big problem, and yet the industry itself – and maybe everybody in general – has come to accept it in a way.”

ALI states that it refuses to accept that “accidents happen” with regard to ladders. The organization, which is made up of 16 North American ladder manufacturers (Moss is CEO of Springville, UT-based Little Giant Ladder Systems), is responsible for developing ladder safety standards. It decided to launch an initiative to address ladder-related incidents that kill almost three workers every week and injure more than 50 workers every day in the United States.

Welcome to the first National Ladder Safety Month.

Beginning in March – and every March going forward – the campaign will include a variety of resources for safety professionals and others who work on all types of ladders. ALI believes ladder injuries are preventable with proper training and product innovations, and is calling on safety professionals to help achieve six goals:

  1. Decrease the number of ladder-related injuries and fatalities.
  2. Increase the number of ladder safety training certificates issued by ALI.
  3. Increase the frequency of ladder safety training modules viewed at www.laddersafetytraining.org.
  4. Lower the ranking of ladder-related safety citations on OSHA’s annual “Top 10” list.
  5. Increase the number of training sessions for competent ladder inspectors.
  6. Increase the number of individuals and companies that inspect and properly dispose of old, damaged or obsolete ladders.

Moss said he is confident that a national effort can make a positive difference. He cited his experience at Little Giant Ladder, where he said an emphasis on training and innovation resulted in clients reporting decreases in ladder-related injuries.

“Having had success at Little Giant, I thought that what if we as an industry could make an impact in this country and perhaps globally,” said Moss, who is serving a three-year term as president of ALI. “What if we could make a difference and get that guy home at night? What if the guy that was going to pass away today, what if his day came and went, and he went home to his kids and got to play soccer with them or went to the recital or went on a date with his wife? If we did our job right, he would never know that today was his day. The American Ladder Institute, the board and everybody else embraced this and said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’”

Important issue

National Ladder Safety Month has the full support of OSHA, which has strived for decades to protect people who work on ladders. Construction workers are particularly vulnerable. Falls accounted for 350 of the 937 construction fatalities in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ladder-related incidents also contributed to more than 150 workplace fatalities and more than 20,000 nonfatal workplace injuries among all industries that year, BLS data shows.

Ladder-related citations have been a fixture on OSHA’s annual “Top 10” list of most cited violations. In fiscal year 2016, the agency reported 2,625 total violations involving ladders, which made the standard (1926.1053) the No. 7 item on the list. The top sections of the standard cited by OSHA involved portable ladder access, using ladders for purposes other than those for which they were designed, using the top of a stepladder as a step, structural defects, and employees carrying objects or loads that could cause them to lose balance and fall.

Training resources

The American Ladder Institute offers four training modules that focus on single and extension ladders, articulated ladders, stepladders, and mobile ladders. Access to the modules is free and allows safety professionals to log in and check which of their employees have taken the training and how they performed. For more information, go to www.laddersafetytraining.org.

“Ignoring ladder safety can not only lead to worker injuries and deaths, but can also cost businesses millions of dollars each year in workers’ compensation costs,” OSHA spokesperson Kimberly Darby said in a statement to Safety+Health. “OSHA supports outreach efforts that promote safety and health at construction worksites.”

Darby said OSHA has developed resources that align with ALI’s goal of preventing ladder-related injuries and fatalities. For the past four years, OSHA has hosted the “National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction” campaign to provide employers with materials aimed at preventing falls, selecting appropriate equipment and training workers. At press time, this year’s event was scheduled to take place May 8-12. OSHA also has produced several ladder safety publications, including a “Ladder Safety QuickCard” featuring tips for workers.

Moss said ALI designated March as National Ladder Safety Month because it marks the start of construction season in many states. He also noted that many people who use a ladder at work use one at home as well, which means employers can protect their employees seven days a week with proper training.

“There is so much opportunity,” Moss said. “We feel like National Ladder Safety Month will continue to grow and evolve. Yes, we have daunting work in front of us to bring about this exposure. It’s one reason we didn’t make it just one day long or a week long. It really is time to do something about this as an industry.”

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