Steps to Improving Ladder & Scaffold Safety

Slips and falls cause a high percentage of workplace accidents. If you are working at heights, be sure to tie off. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men may not be able to put you back together again. Even if you survive a fall, it may change your life. A careless accident involving a friend caused a permanent injury to his leg that ended his days climbing around ladders and scaffolds. At age 40, he is now retraining for a new career, whether he wants one or not.

Falls from ladders and scaffolds account for about ten percent of jobsite fatalities. That’s almost as many as are killed on the job from workplace violence. When I worked for a construction company, I saw a carpenter fall from a roof, landing on his back. Hearing the thud of his body as it hit the ground sent a shiver down my spine. Miraculously, without uttering a word, foul or otherwise, Gary brushed himself off and went back to work. Perhaps being a devoted Christian paid off for him. Another colleague wasn’t so lucky. His fall resulted in internal injuries, from which he has never fully recovered. Even a fall from a height of fifteen feet can kill you, if you land on your head. Here are some suggestions for minimizing ladder and scaffold accidents:

1. Before using ladders, planks and scaffolding, inspect this equipment for loose, broken or missing parts. Also, check that ladders and scaffolds do not have any sharp edges or splinters. Fix or replace damaged equipment. If your equipment is covered with grease or other slippery materials, clean the surface. If your equipment is damaged, don’t paint it to hide the defects…it won’t help. Not all defects will be visible. Equipment, which has been subjected to extraordinary stress, can break without notice. When I and a co-worker were working off of a 12-inch plank, it unexpectedly snapped in half. Fortunately, we landed on our feet without injury. My only explanation for the mysterious accident was that our equipment had been previously been used by three overweight installers, all of whom weighed more than 300 lbs.

2. NEVER exceed the weight capacity of a ladder or scaffold. 3. When working on a ladder, always keep three parts of your body, either two legs and one arm or one leg and two arms, on a ladder at all times. 4. Don’t lean out too far from the ladder. Keep your belly inside the vertical rails of the ladder at all times. 5. Never stand on the top rung of a ladder. The top of a ladder should extend at least three feet beyond the surface, onto which you will be stepping. This allows you to steady yourself as you are stepping off the ladder. 6. The number one cause of ladder accidents is slippage of the base of the ladder. Always make sure that the “feet” of the ladder are in good condition and well-secured before climbing. For every four feet that a ladder extends in height, the base should be positioned one foot from the wall on which the ladder leans. For added stability, you may want to tie off the top of the ladder to prevent it from toppling. 7. When working from scaffolding, the legs of the equipment should be securely positioned on level ground. Make sure that the wheels of the scaffolding are locked in place. Once, while I was installing graphics on a truck-canopy fascia, my scaffold started to roll off the edge of the pavement. As the structure teetered, I jumped to safety before it toppled over. 8. Two ways to prevent injuries caused by trips and falls are to require your employees to wear non-slip safety shoes and to practice good jobsite housekeeping. You can easily slip and fall on a slick release liner that’s been carelessly discarded on the ground. So encourage your workers to pick up their mess. Your jobsite will be safer and you will present a more professional image. 9. This may sound silly, but don’t allow any horseplay. I know of a case where one installer, who was playing around, caused another to lose his balance and fall, resulting in a broken arm. 10. Never place ladder in front of doors without first locking them or blocking them.

OSHA has developed standards for ladder and scaffold safety. Regulations that would apply are covered in OSHA Standards – 29CFR 1910.25, 26, 28 and 29. (Visit As a manager, you should familiarize yourself with the government regulations. Make sure that you communicate the rules to your employees. Finally, insist that everybody follows the rules.

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