The risk of workplace injuries involving ladders is, well, high. Falls are among the most common causes of deadly unintentional injuries, and not just in the workplace – everywhere. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed work injury data from 2011 and ladders play a significant role in fall injuries, especially in the workplace.
Statistics? You’d Better Be Sitting Down
When we talk about falls from ladders, we’re not talking about harmless tumbles, but instead about serious injuries. In 2011, falls from ladders in the workplace resulted in 113 deaths, MSN News reported. That means more than 100 Americans went to work and never came home due to an accident that probably could have been prevented. Fortunately, most ladder-related work accidents weren’t deadly. An additional 34,000 nonfatal injuries sent employees to the emergency room, and 15,500 of those injuries made workers miss at least one day of work. The cost of ladder-related falls in the workplace in terms of life, medical expenses, and productivity is astronomical. Over the last decade, ladders were involved in 43 percent of all fatal falls and 20 percent of work-related falls.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Ladder falls could conceivably happen in just about any workplace, even in situations as unremarkable as climbing a stepladder to change an office light bulb. However, some demographics and industries are associated with a higher risk of falling from a ladder than others. For example, men are more likely than women to experience a ladder fall, possibly because men are also more likely to hold a job that requires regular use of a ladder or perform infrequent tasks that necessitate the use of a ladder. Older employees may have a greater risk of falling from a ladder as compared to younger counterparts, as do Hispanic employees as compared to workers of other ethnic groups.
Ladder falls are so common in the construction industry that they constitute 81 percent of fall injuries in this danger-prone industry. However, other industries also raise workers’ risks, including installation, maintenance and repair, and mining.
Of course, many essential tasks in industries like construction, repair and maintenance, and installation require workers to be elevated in some way off the ground. Yet not all means of elevation are equally dangerous. The CDC urges employers to make safer alternatives to ladders, like supported scaffolds, lifts, and platforms, available to workers whenever possible.
Climbing Toward a Safer Workplace
For some jobs, no alternative will efficiently replace a ladder. There are still ways to make workplaces safer. Employees should complete as much work while on the ground as possible to minimize the time they spend on the ladder (and in the danger zone). Companies should have as many ladders as necessary to meet height requirements for a task or location and weight capacity for handling the combined weight of workers and materials. All ladders should be inspected regularly for safety. Finally, on-the-job ladder safety training for all employees can help workers stay safe even when they’re up on a ladder.
No one should have to fear for their lives or their safety on the job. While there are programs in place like workers compensation to help injured workers, they don’t do near enough, and employees’ rights to pursue additional claims are often very limited. The best time to do something about a workplace safety hazard is before an accident happens, not after the damage has already been done.