Ladder Safety: The Most Common Causes of Ladder-Related Falls and Injuries in the Workplace

Ladders on a jobsite

In 2015, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recorded 150 ladder-related fatalities and 20,000 ladder-related nonfatal workplace injuries. The dangers associated with this common workplace tool—prevalent on construction sites, warehouse floors, and even in offices—has safety experts demanding new ways to safeguard workers.

An Associate Professor at Pitt is answering the call. 

Kurt Beschorner of the University of Pittsburgh’s Bioengineering Department recently received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop safer ladder designs and study risk factors that lead to ladder falls.

His work is critical for worker safety, especially those working in construction, maintenance, or service occupations. Half of all workers who fall from ladders require more than 20 days away from work as they recover from their injuries. Preventing those falls with better equipment would keep these workers out of the hospital and in the workplace where they can continue providing for their families.  

While Professor Beschorner innovates for a safer tomorrow, the workers of today need to understand ladder safety, how to protect themselves, and what to do in the event that they are hurt on the job.

A worker at the bottom of a ladder

Most Common Causes of Ladder Falls

Falls from ladders are often the result of user error, and OSHA frequently cites workplaces for allowing these errors to take place. Fortunately, ladder falls are entirely preventable. When workers understand the biggest risks present throughout the workday, they can adjust their behavior to remain safe. According to NIOSH, the five most common causes of ladder falls are the following:

1. Incorrect extension ladder angle. The optimal angle for an extension ladder is 75 degrees, but workers often pull the base further away from the wall. Extreme angles make the ladder more likely to slide out from underneath the user, leading to dangerous falls.

2. Inappropriate ladder selection. Picking the wrong ladder for the job could lead to structural failure. If a worker puts too much strain on a ladder, it could collapse underneath them.

3. Insufficient ladder inspection. Using a ladder that is poorly maintained, wet, or dirty could result in a fatal fall.

4. Improper ladder use. Workers who overreach or carry items with them on a ladder are more likely to fall during use. OSHA’s guidelines on ladder safety recommend maintaining three points of contact with the ladder whenever you’re climbing or descending.

5. Insufficient training. According to NIOSH, the majority of the country’s construction companies lack the resources or knowledge to train workers on ladder safety training.

This last issue is one of the most problematic. Education is the first step to eliminating hazards.

When workers are properly trained and educated, they can take active steps to prevent the most common ladder-related injuries.

Common Ladder-Related Injuries

A fall from any height can be traumatic. Some of the most common injuries workers suffer after falling from a ladder include:

  • Head/brain damage
  • Broken backs
  • Broken arms, legs, or other extremities

For those workers who survive their falls, they are faced with lengthy recovery periods that could require time away from work. In some cases, these workers may deserve workers’ compensation.

Know Your Rights

If you’ve been injured in a ladder-related incident at work, contact Dugan & Associates to discuss your rights. We’ll fight on your behalf to win you the check you deserve.

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