Attacking Ladder Falls-One Rung at a Time: Falls from Ladders Injure More Than 20,000 American Workers Every Year, According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

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The impact from sprains and strains, broken bones and other more serious disabling conditions resulting from falls from ladders reaches far beyond the injured worker's suffering. The direct compensation and medical treatments associated with falls from elevation cost American businesses $4.6 billion, according to Liberty Mutual's 2005 Workplace Safety Index. And the indirect costs associated with increased absenteeism, worker replacement and productivity loss can cost up to two times as much, according to a recent survey of corporate financial decision-makers.

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How can you help prevent ladder falls? First, you need to understand why they are happening. Unfortunately, there are many potential causes. Workers lose footing while carrying tools or materials up the ladder. Grease, ice, mud, snow or water on the rungs can cause slips and falls. Old, poorly maintained ladders can break during use. Or--the most common ladder accident--the ladder base slips out of position. This happens when the ladder is at a wrong angle, workers climb too fast or the surface below the ladder is wet, bumpy or uneven.

Once you have identified why your ladder accidents happen, your next step is to implement a safety and training program. Outlined below are suggested steps to get your program off on the right foot.

WHAT'S YOUR ANGLE?

The American National Standards Institute recommends setting ladders at a 75.5 degree angle. Findings from a Liberty Mutual Research Institute study echo this recommendation. Liberty Mutual researchers found that adjusting a ladder's angle a mere 10 degrees--from 75 to 65 degrees--almost doubles the friction required to hold the ladder in place. If you increase the worker's climbing speed, the friction required jumps again by 7 percent.

However, in the real world, most workers have no way to measure ladder angle. In fact, several studies show that when workers set up a ladder at 75 degrees without a measurement device, resulting angles vary from 67.3 to 76.2 degrees. Here are some ways to check your angle:

* Use the label with the large "L" on the side of the ladder as a guide. The long leg of the "L" should be parallel to the wall or the short leg parallel to the floor.

* Set the base of the ladder one-quarter of the working length from the wall.

* Position the ladder so that the heel of your palm comfortably reaches the side rails. Test this by standing with your toes at the base of the ladder and holding your arms straight out.

You can reduce falls by training your workers to use these techniques and using appropriate equipment, such as non-slip feet, cleats and ladder tie-offs. The following case study demonstrates the difference safe ladder use can make on your bottom line.

A LADDER SAFETY SUCCESS STORY

After Company A paid out more than $130,000 over 2 years for nine ladder accidents, it decided to implement a safety program. Traveling to various worksites to determine why accidents were happening, the safety director recorded and photographed multiple incidents of ladder misuse. He presented his findings to management in a company-wide analysis of accident drivers and cost and gained approval on a ladder safety program that included:

* Property manager briefings on the primary accident drivers, how those accidents occur and their impact on the company's profitability.

* Safety training for all employees including proper ladder selection; three-point rule; ladder setup; ladder capacity and strength; and ladder inspection, care and maintenance.

* Usage policy development and implementation to demonstrate management's commitment to safety. All workers must acknowledge their receipt and understanding of the policy at the end of training.

* Periodic safety audits to ensure policy and technique compliance that evaluate ladder setup, use, condition and maintenance. …