Ladders are integral to construction. Unfortunately, ladder use also often leads to devastating and deadly falls.

Every year, at least 70 construction workers die from falling off ladders. Over 4,000 more suffer injuries that can sideline them for months, if not permanently. The good news is that when construction workers receive regular training on how to use ladders and are provided with the right equipment, most of the situations that can lead to falls are easily avoided. Using a ladder always comes with risks, but you can reduce the likelihood of being injured or killed by understanding why falls from ladders happen.

Falls from ladders are commonly caused by:

  • Using the wrong ladder for the job
  • Mounting or dismounting the ladder improperly
  • Losing one’s balance
  • Improper setup
  • Over-reaching
  • Misstepping while climbing or descending

Falls from ladders are also be caused by:

  • Exceeding the ladder’s weight capacity
  • Climbing the ladder with tools or material in your hands
  • Climbing or descending not facing the ladder
  • Oil, grease or mud on ladder rungs
  • The ladder not being secured at the base or top
  • The ladder not set up at the proper angle
  • The ladder not extended three feet above the upper surface
  • Using the top step of a step ladder
  • Placing the ladder on unstable surfaces

Most falls from ladders happen when ascending and descending. These times can be made safer by:

  • Checking that the ladder is in good condition
  • Checking that the ladder is set up at the proper angle of 4 ft. in height for every foot out (NIOSH’s free smartphone app can help you set the proper angle)
  • Facing the ladder
  • Using three points of contact at all times
  • Ascending no higher than the third step from the top
  • Pausing before starting descent
  • Looking at the next step before moving the foot

Under the best of circumstances, working from a ladder is dangerous. When working at heights, scaffolds and aerial lifts are often better choices. By planning ahead and providing the appropriate equipment, employers can reduce the need to use ladders and make working at heights safer for construction workers.

Ladder Safety, a Health Alert from the LHSFNA, provides information for setting up, using and inspecting ladders. It can be ordered through the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue.

The LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division can provide additional guidance on working from heights that is specific to your worksite. This guidance can include on-site visits. For more information, call the Division at 202-628-5465.

Other useful information is available at OSHA’s Falls Prevention Campaign website.

Don’t Fall for It, a video produced by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), provides information on ladder safety. CPWR also provides additional ladder safety information here.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]