Wael Khalil, CSP Safety Representative Lovell Safety Management Co., LLC
Have you noticed in recent years that more general contractors are requiring platform ladders instead of standard A-frame ladders? As a matter of fact, some general contractors (GCs) will not allow ladder usage on their jobsite, period. On some construction sites, A-frame ladders have become a tool of last resort when performing work at an elevation. Most GCs would prefer that employees use manlifts, scissor lifts, boom lifts or other elevated work platforms rather than ladders. The main reasoning behind this philosophy is to eliminate a primary source of costly fall injuries.
FALLS CONTINUE TO BE THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AND SEVERE INJURY IN CONSTRUCTION. In 2020, there were 351 fatal falls to a lower level out of 1,008 construction fatalities (BLS data). A 2014 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited ladders as being a leading cause of workplace injuries. According to the study, an estimated 81% of construction-related falls treated in U.S. emergency rooms involved a ladder. The most common ladders used on construction sites to perform work are A-frame ladders. When these ladders are used in accordance with required safety work practices dictated by manufacturers and regulating bodies, they can be a very useful and safe piece of equipment. Unfortunately, A-frame ladders are misused more often than we would like to admit.
Most injuries associated with A-frame ladders occur when employees climb higher than the 3rd step from the top, when overreaching to the side of the ladder, missing or slipping off the bottom step/rung, and using a worn or damaged ladder. Many of these hazards can be significantly minimized by using platform ladders instead of standard A-frame ladders.
On a platform ladder, you are typically standing on a 1’x1.5’ (or larger) platform, not a 3” ladder rung. This provides the use of a firmer and more stable surface to stand on, which minimizes fatigue and subsequently slipping off ladder rungs. The elimination of the ladder cap and second rung eliminates the potential hazard of climbing too high on the ladder. In addition, the fact that the user is standing firmly in the center within the framing of the ladder, the potential of falls due to reaching to the sides of the ladder is minimized.
While platform ladders will not eliminate all ladder fall hazards, they can be another tool that can significantly help minimize the potential for fall-related injuries when used properly. As employers, we still need to practice the fundamentals of hazard prevention through steps outlined in the same 2014 CDC Article:
1) plan the work to reduce or eliminate the need for using ladders by applying safety-in-design and constructability principles to finish as much of the work as possible on the ground;
2) provide alternative, safer equipment for extended work at elevation, such as aerial lifts, supported scaffolds, or mast climbing work platforms;
3) provide properly selected and thoroughly inspected ladders, that are well-matched to employee weight, task, and location;
4) when applicable, provide proper accessories to supplement safe ladder use; and
5) provide adequate ladder safety information and training for employees.
Familiarity and compliance with the provisions of safety regulations, such as recognizing ladder types and conditions, and using ladder positioning and other safe ladder practices, are crucial to reducing injuries from ladder falls.
LSM Group Members Can Contact Their Local LSM Safety Representative for Further Assistance Regarding Proper Ladder Selection or Ladder Alternatives.”