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August 2013

Falling off of a ladder - then and now

By Ellis Brasch

Ladder accidents – and their causes – have a curious continuity. Consider this news item:

"Failure to secure a ladder resulted in the death several weeks ago of a telephone lineman. [He] was repairing a drop line, having set up an extension ladder with the middle of it resting over a fence and the top leaning against a fir limb 19 feet above the ground.

The ladder slipped off the limb when the lineman apparently reached too far out to connect the wires. The bottom of the ladder also slipped [because] it had not been secured. The lineman fell to the ground, dying a day later of a broken neck. He left a wife and two children."

And this quote, in another news item, from an emergency medical responder who tended to a worker critically injured after a fall from a ladder:

"Usually, you won't get hurt that badly falling off a ladder…But he must have landed wrong."

The first item appeared in the September 1945 issue of Safer Oregon, a newsletter published by the State Industrial Accident Commission. The emergency responder was quoted in an article published in the Oregonian in January 2012. Sixty-seven years separated these two events, but the causes of ladder accidents haven't changed since John H. Balsley invented "the improved stepladder" in 1862. And that lineman might very well have had the same thought – before he fell from the ladder in 1945 – that the emergency responder expressed in 2012: "Usually, you won't get hurt that badly falling off a ladder."

Every year, more Oregon workers are injured in falls from ladders than from any other elevated surface – including roofs, scaffolds, balconies, and even stairs. They fall from ladders for one (or more) of the following reasons:

Of course, you can get hurt just as badly falling off a ladder as you can from falling off other elevated surfaces. It's not the fall that hurts you; it's what happens when you hit the ground.

If you need help convincing skeptical people how ladder accidents happen, you can share summaries of every ladder accident reported to Oregon OSHA for the past six years (taken from the OSHA 170 Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation Summary). You can find Ladder-related accident narratives, 2007 to present on Oregon OSHA's website under A-Z Topic List: "Ladders."

Need a quick refresher on how to select, set up, and use a portable ladder? Check out Oregon OSHA's portable ladder app, also available for mobile devices in the Google Play store.

Heads up construction-industry employers.

If you have employees who use ladders, make sure that a competent person has trained them. Training must cover ladder hazards, how to use ladders, ladder capacities, and Oregon OSHA's requirements for the ladders they use. A competent person is one who can identify existing and predictable hazards where employees work and who has authority to correct the hazards promptly.

defective ladder

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For general information, technical answers, or information about Oregon OSHA services, please call 503-378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, 800-922-2689.