Many people may assume that tougher safety regulations and new safety technologies have made construction accidents an issue of the past. However, construction accidents are unfortunately a common occurrence, and more construction workers die from falls than from any other construction-related injury. In fact, falls account for one-third of work-related deaths suffered by construction workers.
Construction falls may occur from roofs, scaffolding, ladders or other structures. Last year, there were more than 570 construction deaths and 180 of those construction deaths were due to falls. Despite this large number, construction deaths have actually been on the decline in recent years. However, the decline in construction deaths is not as much related to improved safety as it is to the economic downturn. Before the Great Recession annual deaths from construction accidents totaled near 1,200- more than twice the current number.
With regard to ladder falls in particular, there are a number of important steps employers and workers may take to prevent falls.
Choosing and Inspecting Ladders
Different building and construction jobs require different ladders. There are two types of ladders: fixed and portable. If a job requires a portable ladder decide whether a self-supporting ladder like an "A" frame or a straight or extension ladder is appropriate. The height of a ladder is not the same as its maximum working height. To determine the safest and highest point you can reach with the ladder, check the ladder's duty rating sticker for the highest standing level and add five feet.
Weight can also be a safety issue. The duty rating sticker also specifies the safest amount of weight a ladder can handle. Construction workers should use robust ladders that are Type 1, 1A or 1AA and can respectively handle up to 250, 300 and 375 pounds. Also be sure your ladder is made of the right material for the working environment, and is not in any sort of disrepair.
Setting Up Portable Ladders
To ensure the safety of a worker, a ladder should also be properly set up. The ladder should be placed in a safe location away from doors, traffic and uneven surfaces. A ladder should always be placed more than 10 feet from overhead power lines and should not be used in windy conditions.
Be sure the ladder is placed on a solid, even surface. To determine whether the surface is solid enough, stomp the ground. If it goes in more than one inch, the surface is too soft. If the ground is not hard enough, then place particle board or plywood under the ladder to create a base.
Finally, a ladder should be level. A ladder that is not level at the bottom will quickly become unstable as you climb. For example, a 20-foot ladder that is not level by 3/4 of an inch will be out of place by 14 inches at the top.
Climbing Ladders Safely Under OSHA
Once you select the proper ladder and safely secure it, you should continue to use caution as you climb. OSHA regulations require workers to abide by the following steps when climbing a ladder.
- Construction workers should face the ladder when climbing up or down and should never turn out or away from the ladder.
- Workers should stay centered when climbing and keep the center of their body within the rails of the ladder as they climb.
- Workers should only carry small loads when climbing, and they should never carry a load that would threaten their balance.
- Workers should always have three points of contact with the ladder meaning two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet should be engaged with the ladder.
- You should never stand on the top of a stepladder or A-frame ladder, and you should never stand on the top three rungs of a straight or extension ladder. Lastly, only one worker should use the ladder at time.
Even taking all these precautions some falls will still occur. If you have been injured in a ladder fall or other construction fall or accident, contact an experienced construction accident attorney who can help you review your legal options.