Safety Focus: Preventing Falls From Scaffolds and Ladders

Safety Focus: Preventing Falls From Scaffolds and Ladders

Falls from elevations are a persistent hazard found in all occupational settings. A fall can occur during the simple act of walking or climbing a ladder to change a light fixture, or as a result of a complex series of events affecting a worker 80 feet above the ground.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), scaffolding incidents result in more than 4,500 injuries and 60 deaths each year. Almost 30 percent of all workplace deaths from falls involve scaffolding or ladders. 

A recent study of all ALMA claims from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2019 revealed:
  • Slip, Trip, and Fall (STF) injuries accounted for ~1,700 claims during that timeframe.
  • Ladder and scaffold-specific claims accounted for ~190 claims, which was 11% of all STF claims.
  • Ladder and scaffold-specific claims cost, on average, was 60% more than any other type of STF claim.

When a stringent ladder and scaffolding safety program is adopted, implemented, and assessed in a timely manner, the number of claims and the cost associated with the injuries incurred during an incident can be easier to manage.


Common Causes of Falls From Scaffolds and Ladders

Federal regulations and industry consensus standards provide specific measures and performance-based recommendations for fall prevention and protection. However, persistent unsafe practices and poor safety culture across many industries result in steady fall injury rates year after year. 

Photos illustrating some exposures that result from scaffold and ladder falls can be found on the  Safety Focus: Falls From Scaffolds and Ladders page on the ALMA member resource website.

Falls from Scaffolds

Scaffolds are defined as temporary elevated platforms and their substructures that are used for supporting workers or materials or both. Scaffolds vary greatly in type, size, material, and function and are used in a multitude of work settings. Factors associated with falls from scaffolds include improper maintenance or erection/dismantling procedures, incorrect methods for mounting or dismounting, missing ladder gates or access openings, overloading, absence of guardrails, scaffold component failures, defective personal protective equipment (PPE), or absence or improper use of PPE.

Falls from Ladders

Although many ladder-related injuries result from misuse -- such as an improper extension ladder lean angle against a wall causing it to slip outward, the use of a damaged ladder, or failing to lock a step ladder’s spreaders -- many ladder incidents occur due to design or manufacturing defects. Many stepladders are excessively flexible, which can lead to falls due to a racking instability. Additionally, some extension ladders are equipped with poorly designed rung locks. Both of these defects can cause climbers to fall. Other defects can be introduced during manufacturing, such as material flaws or improperly seated rivets. 

Portable ladders are notoriously unstable. Workers often abuse the ladders causing damage, fail to tie them off or set them up properly, overreach, or fail to maintain three-point contact at all times. 

Fixed ladders can also be an issue. Metal ladders rust and deteriorate after being exposed to products and the elements. Workers may not see the deterioration and use the ladder. Once pressure is applied, the deteriorated ladder breaks away from its anchor points.


OSHA Rules Related to Falls From Scaffolds and Ladders

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency that enforces safety and health regulations in the United States, has set forth requirements to protect workers from fall hazards in all industries. These requirements are set by requiring employers to develop and implement comprehensive fall protection programs including safe access to work at heights while using equipment generally used in the maritime industry such as ladders, scaffolds, or any other elevated platforms. The intent of this requirement is to eliminate falls from elevated surfaces. These requirements are mandatory and must be implemented anywhere fall hazards exist. 

Management is required to:
  • Develop, implement, and commit to a fall protection program including but not limited to working on ladders or scaffolds
  • Provide training on the fall protection program including proper erecting, altering and/or dismantling use of ladders and scaffolds
  • Evaluate the program on a regular basis to ensure the program’s effectiveness and determine whether it needs to be changed or updated

Specific OSHA rules for both shipyards and marine cargo handling facilities are listed on the  Safety Focus: Falls From Scaffolds and Ladders page on the ALMA member resource website.


Focusing on Falls From Scaffolds and Ladders Leads to Lower Costs and Fewer Injuries

Successful reduction of fall injury and fatality rates requires continued concerted efforts of regulators and industry leaders, professional associations and labor unions, employers and employees, safety professionals, and researchers in enhancing the work environment, implementing new effective fall prevention and protection technologies, and improving the work safety culture through continuous education of the workforce.

In addition to helping you have greater control of safety outcomes, a ladder and scaffold safety program also reduces financial losses associated with fall injuries. Most importantly, being able to provide a safe work environment helps provide long-term stability to the most important assets of a business: its employees.


Exclusive for ALMA Members: Falls From Scaffolds and Ladders Resource Site

As part of our monthly Safety Focus initiative, the ALMA member resource website has  a page providing safety resources related to falls from scaffolds and ladders. Resources include:

  • OSHA rules related to falls from scaffolds and ladders
  • Understanding exposures to scaffold/ladder fall hazards
  • Training requirements for scaffolds and ladders
  • Systems to eliminate causes of falls from scaffolds or ladders
  • Fall protection guidance document
  • Facility posters promoting safe ladder/scaffold use
  • Portable ladder safety checklist
  • OSHA Quick Cards for ladder safety
  • Toolbox talks
  • Safety bulletins 
ALMA members may access that page  by clicking here (login required). If you have not yet registered for access, click here to do so.
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