Falls in general and ladder falls in particular are especially hazardous for older workers. With an aging population and workforce, this is of increasing significance. Forty-seven percent of hospitalizations due to ladder falls involve people older than age 55. In a one-year period, fractures, the most common of ladder fall injuries, comprised seven percent of workers’ compensation claims, with workers 45 years of age and older at greatest risk.

It is an established fact that falls top the list for construction site fatalities and injuries. In 2009, falls were responsible for more than one third of construction worker deaths. Many times, ladders are the source. Falls from ladders are responsible for 16 percent of all U.S. workplace fatalities.

New data published by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) shows just how dangerous and pervasive these falls are. Annually, they injure more than 20,000 U.S. workers and kill more than 100, but they also cause numerous injuries and deaths in non-occupational settings. Falls from ladders associated with work and non-work activities send more than 136,000 people to emergency rooms every year. Whether these mishaps occur at work or at home, two-thirds of the resulting injuries lead to over a month of lost workdays. Eighteen percent require weeklong hospital stays followed by six weeks of disability and unemployment.

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

The CPWR video, Don’t Fall for It, also provides information on ladder safety.

When standing on a ladder, it is not possible to reach more than about a foot on either side. This actually makes working from a ladder difficult. In fact, when working at heights, a ladder might not be appropriate. A scaffold or aerial lift may be a better choice. By planning ahead, employers can make working at heights safer by always having the proper equipment on hand. Also, when assigning tasks, employers should take worker capability into account.

Ladder falls are most likely to happen when ascending or descending.

  • Check that the ladder is set up at the right angle (4 up to 1 out).
  • Face the ladder.
  • Use three points of contact at all times.
  • Ascend no higher than the third step from the top.
  • Pause before starting descent.
  • Look at the next step before moving the foot.

When safety measures are coupled with best employee work practices, fall risk at the jobsite is minimized.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]