Ladder Training is The Best Solution to Ladder-Related Injuries

There is a movement in industry right now to use ladders only as a last resort. Ladder -related injuries are such a large percentage of their injury expenses that companies are trying to find any other way to get the job done. Every day, nearly 2,000 people are injured while using a ladder, and as many as 100 of them will suffer a long-term disability. However, until someone invents the anti-gravity boots I dreamed of as a kid, ladders will continue to be a necessity in the workplace and around the house. So if ladders still need to be used, how can we reduce the number of ladder-related injuries? The answer is better training and better (safer) ladder design.

Better Training
Neither live, in-person training nor online training by itself is enough. A comprehensive approach of both live and online training is important to solidify the message with each operator. You may not know it, but there are some great, no-cost resources out there.

Online Training
The latest (and greatest) ladder safety training is available for FREE at www.laddersafetytraining.org

This website was developed and is maintained by the American Ladder Institute (ALI). This organization is made up of all major ladder manufacturers and suppliers, so the training is just that, training (not sales). You can access this site from basically any platform, smartphone or tablet in English and Spanish. The ALI training program is designed specifically for safety professionals; it allows you to upload your operators’ names and track their progress as they proceed through the training. It is by far the best online training program on the web, and best of all it’s free!

In-Person Training
When holding your own safety training sessions, these are some of the things you really need to cover:

• Proper Ladder Selection Using the wrong ladder for the job is one of the leading causes of ladder-related accidents. There are things you should look for when choosing the ladder for the job:
Style. You should use the correct style of ladder (stepladder, extension, staircase) for every job. You should never lean a stepladder against a wall and climb it like an extension ladder.

Weight Rating. Make sure that the weight rating of the ladder is greater than your weight and the weight of any tools or materials you will be carrying.

Material. Always use a fiberglass ladder if used near electricity, whether you’re actually working on an electrical circuit or not.

Length. The ladder needs to be long enough to safely reach without climbing on the top rung or top cap of a stepladder or the top three rungs of an extension ladder. Also, when accessing a roof or an upper landing, the ladder should extend three feet above the contact point.
Inspection. Before every use, check the ladder for loose rungs, rivets, bolts and welds. Never use a ladder with broken or defective parts. Always check the feet of the ladder to make sure the tread is in good shape.

• Handling and Carrying the Ladder When carrying a ladder to the worksite you should make sure it is well balanced and that the front is slightly raised. Losing control of the ladder during transportation and set up is one of the leading causes of accidents.

• Safe Setup Place the ladder on level ground that is free from debris. Always set up an extension ladder at a 75.5 degree angle or 4 to 1 ratio. The easiest way to do this is by placing your toes in front of the ladder feet, holding your arms straight out and placing the palms of your hands on the rung. If you can’t find a level surface, use approved levelers to make sure your rungs are perfectly level.

• Check for Hazards Avoid hazards like overhead power lines. Never set up a ladder in front of a door.

• 3-Points of Contact When climbing a ladder, always maintain three points of contact. Never climb a ladder while carrying tools or equipment. Use a rope to raise and lower tools after you have climbed to the desired height. Never overextend or overreach—always keep the center of your body (belt buckle) between the side rails of the ladder. If you can’t safely reach your work, climb down and move the ladder.

Overreaching is the number-one cause of catastrophic falls.

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Free Onsite Safety Training
Dave Francis, National Safety Director for Little Giant Ladder Systems, is available for free, live ladder safety demonstrations. This is a free service provided by Little Giant with no cost or obligation to you. Contact Dave at dave@ladders.com or 801-362-8586.
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Better (Safer) Ladder Design

Companies have been providing ladder safety training for a long time but the number of ladder injuries continues to grow. Training alone is not the answer. There is no reason to keep using ladders that are just like the ones your Grandpa used. Advances in technology have changed everything else in your life, and its time we improved the ladders we trust our lives on.

Design for Human Nature
In order to design a safer ladder, we need to study the ways people actually use their ladders and designed around or against human behavior. By dividing accidents into the three major causes we can design solutions to each major problem:

1. Repeated Handling of Heavy Climbing Equipment
Strains and sprains caused by moving and setting up the ladder are usually less serious; but because they are by far the most common kind of injury, they account for the greatest expense to the employer. By using modern advances in fiberglass-resin composites and engineering design, we have reduced the weight of an extension ladder by up to 25 percent without reducing its strength. Reducing the weight of the ladder, along with training in proper technique, will greatly reduce these types of injuries.

2. Using the Wrong Ladder for the Job
Using a ladder that is too short for the job, climbing on the top rung, or leaning a stepladder against the wall like an extension ladder are prime examples of this mistake. This type of accident is usually more serious because it involves a fall that might result in broken bones or permanent disability. Proper training is important, but you can also use multipurpose ladders, which adjust in size and type can also be used to adapt to different tasks.

3. Falls Due to Overreaching
These are the most serious type of ladder accidents, often resulting in disability or death. Instead of climbing down and moving the ladder over a few feet, some users try to reach beyond the recommended distance and cause the ladder to tip. Uneven ground is also a factor in this type of accident. Just one inch out of level at the bottom of a 28-foot ladder will cause the top of the ladder to be over 19 inches off center, vastly increasing the possibility of a side-tip fall. Levelers can help alleviate this risk, but they do not prevent the user from over-reaching, and they add weight to the ladder. To protect against both unlevel ground and overreaching, we have added retractable wide-stance outriggers that double the base width and increase side-to-side stability by more than 600%. And since no job-site is perfectly level, these outriggers also adjust to uneven ground to ensure a perfectly level base.

Advancements in technology and improvements in materials have made it possible to manufacture lighter, stronger ladders. Here are some of the new products you should look for:

Multi-Purpose Ladders can be used as stepladders or extension ladders, so you always have the right ladder for the job. More importantly, they can be adjusted to safely work on staircases and uneven or sloping ground.
Aerial Safety Cages provide an enclosed platform with 42” handrails. With this added protection the user can safely work with both hands without being tied off. These Cages also adjust to multiple heights and work on uneven ground or staircases.
Leveling, Wide-Stance Outriggers on Extension Ladders ensure that you are never on an unlevel surface and that you’re supported with a wide, stable base. If you think about it, most aerial equipment you see on a job site has outriggers for stabilization—backhoes, cranes, lifts, etc. Why wouldn’t ladders have them, too? These ladders will help reduce catastrophic side-tip accidents caused by overreaching, which cause the majority of severe or fatal ladder falls.

Even with the very best training and the latest state of art equipment, ladders are inherently dangerous. Never become complacent or distracted while using a ladder. Remember, getting the job done a few minutes faster is not as important as getting home to your family at the end of the day. Climb safe.

Dave Francis, National Safety Director for Little Giant Ladder Systems, has over 30 years of experience in the ladder industry. Dave is available for free, live ladder safety demonstrations. Contact Dave at dave@ladders.com or 801-362-8586. Learn more about ladder safety at www.laddersafetyhub.com.

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Originally Published in Industrial Hygiene News

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