Close this search box.

Everyday Equipment Shouldn’t Be a Killer

The National Safety Stand-Down, held the first week of May, is a nationwide campaign to remind and educate employers and workers in the construction industry about the serious dangers of falls and how to take steps to prevent them.

Falls are consistently the leading cause of death in construction and you might be surprised to know that an everyday piece of equipment – the ladder – is responsible for a third of them.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that falls from ladders killed 87 construction workers in 2014. During that same year, 5,050 more construction workers suffered a ladder injury that kept them out of work. Most of these falls were from relatively low heights of 6-10 feet.

According to research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), most ladder falls are due to:

  • Inappropriate ladder selection
  • Incorrect extension ladder setup angle
  • Insufficient ladder inspection
  • Improper ladder use
  • Lack of access to ladder safety tools and information

The best way to stop these falls from happening is through preventive best practices, worker education and worker compliance. Employers should schedule ladder training and a toolbox talk on ladder safety before work begins on a project, and both should be repeated periodically until the job is completed.

Toolbox talks and training on ladder safety should include these points:

  • Always read and follow all labels/markings on the ladder.
  • Inspect the ladder before using it. Damaged ladders must be removed from service and tagged until properly repaired or discarded.
  • Maintain three-point (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) contact on the ladder when climbing.
  • Only use ladders and appropriate accessories (ladder levelers, jacks or hooks) for their designed purposes.
  • Do not use the top step/rung of a step ladder as a step/rung unless it is designed for that purpose.
  • Do not place a ladder on boxes, barrels or other unstable bases to obtain additional height.
  • Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
  • Do not exceed the maximum load rating of a ladder.

Employers and workers can also download the free NIOSH Ladder Safety app, which puts ladder safety tools, information and worker education resources directly into the hands of ladder users. The app is available in English and Spanish and can be downloaded for free at the Apple Store and Google Play Store.

Falls are always a risk when working on a ladder, but they are much less likely to occur when workers know how to properly set up and use a ladder. To ensure they have this knowledge, best practices must be taught and required on jobsites.

Alternatives to ladders should also be considered whenever possible. Scaffolds and aerial lifts are much safer and can usually be put in place with some simple planning.

Ladder Safety, a Health Alert from the LHSFNA, works great as a toolbox talk handout and provides additional information for setting up, using and inspecting ladders. It can be ordered through the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue.

The LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Division can provide additional guidance on working from heights that is specific to your worksite. This guidance can include on-site visits. For more information, call the OSH Division at 202-628-5465.

Other useful information is available at OSHA’s Falls Prevention Campaign website at

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

Recent Lifelines