Safety Tips FACE Reports

FACEValue: Window cleaner dies after fall from step ladder

NIOSH's Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Reports
Date of incident: Jan. 22, 2009

A 33-year-old window cleaner died after falling from an 8-foot stepladder. A bucket was tied to the top of the ladder with a rag, making the ladder unstable. The victim was wearing a hard hat, safety goggles and work boots at the time of the incident. The victim worked for a family-owned cleaning business that employed approximately six workers. Only the victim, owner and supervisor were permitted to clean windows. On the day of the incident, the company was subcontracted for external cleaning at a condominium complex that was being built. Prior to the fall, the site supervisor left the worksite to purchase additional cleaning solution. The victim was working alone, although five co-workers and other subcontractors were stationed in nearby areas. A tile foreman on another work crew that was in the elevator heard a crashing sound. He found the victim on the ground, shaking and trying to stand up. The foreman called 911 and emergency medical services arrived within minutes. EMS transferred him to a local hospital, where he died the following morning.

To prevent future occurrences:
Employers should eliminate the need to climb a ladder to clean windows by implementing engineering controls such as use of an aerial lift or extender poles. Controlling exposure to hazards is the best means of protecting workers. In this situation, the worker was required to climb an 8-foot ladder to clean windows, creating a fall hazard. An extender pole with a squeegee would allow the worker to remain on the ground. 

Employers should ensure workers understand how to properly use ladders in a manner that minimizes the risk of falls. The victim had tied a bucket partially filled with cleaning solution to the top of the ladder. Typically, the bucket weighed 16-21 pounds. Hanging a bucket filled to that weight off of an 8-foot ladder will make the ladder unstable, and the liquid dynamic of the bucket will further increase the likelihood of a tip-over.    

Employers should develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive safety and health program, and should provide worker training on hazard recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions. Employers should evaluate all tasks performed by workers to identify hazards, and create a safety and health program to addresses them. At a minimum, this program must include an explanation of workers rights, safe work practices, ways to identify and avoid hazards, and who should be contacted with heath and safety concerns. Site-specific training should be completed and documented. In this case, the employer had no written safety program.


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