6. Ladders

CDC: There’s Nothing ‘Easy’ About Falling Off a Ladder

May 2, 2014
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that falls remain a leading cause of death and nearly half of those deadly falls have been from ladders.

What’s the old saying? It’s as easy as falling off a ladder? Judging by a recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is easy to fall off a ladder and it often can be deadly.

The study, published in the most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), found that falls remain a leading cause of unintentional injury mortality nationwide, and 43 percent of fatal falls in the last decade have involved a ladder.

Among workers, approximately 20 percent of fall injuries involve ladders, and among construction workers, an estimated 81 percent of fall injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms involve a ladder.

To fully characterize fatal and nonfatal injuries associated with ladder falls among workers in the United States, researchers Christina M. Socias, DrPH, of CDC, and Cammie K. Chaumont Menéndez, Ph.D., James W. Collins, Ph.D., and Peter Simeonov, Ph.D., of NIOSH’s Division of Safety Research, analyzed data across multiple surveillance systems: the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System–occupational supplement (NEISS-Work).

Percentage of ladder fall fatalities* and nonfatal ladder fall injuries treated in emergency departments, by fall height (when documented)

In 2011, work-related ladder fall injuries (LFIs) resulted in 113 fatalities (0.09 per 100,000 full-time equivalent [FTE] workers), an estimated 15,460 nonfatal injuries reported by employers that involved more than 1 day away from work (DAFW) and an estimated 34,000 nonfatal injuries treated in emergency rooms. Rates for nonfatal, work-related, emergency room-treated LFIs were higher (2.6 per 10,000 FTE) than those for such injuries reported by employers (1.2 per 10,000 FTE).

“LFIs represent a substantial public health burden of preventable injuries for workers,” noted the researchers.

According to the study:

  • Men and Hispanics had higher rates of fatal and nonfatal LFIs compared with women and non-Hispanic whites and workers of other races/ethnicities.
  • LFI rates increased with age, except for injuries treated in emergency rooms.
  • Fatality rates were substantially higher for self-employed workers (0.30 per 100,000 FTE workers) than salary/wage workers (0.06 per 100,000 FTE workers).
  • Companies with the fewest employees had the highest fatality rates.
  • The construction industry had the highest LFI rates compared with all other industries.
  • Across all industries, the highest fatal and nonfatal LFI rates were in the following two occupation groups: construction and extraction (e.g., mining) occupations, followed by installation, maintenance and repair occupations.
  • Head injuries were implicated in about half of fatal injuries (49 percent), whereas most nonfatal injuries involved the upper and lower extremities for employer-reported and emergency room-treated nonfatal injuries.

National Stand-Down June 2-6

Because falls are the leading cause of work-related injuries and deaths in construction, NIOSH, OSHA and the Center for Construction Research and Training are promoting a national campaign to prevent workplace falls. NIOSH also is developing innovative technologies to complement safe ladder use.

OSHA has scheduled a national safety stand-down from June 2 to 6 to raise awareness among employers and workers about the hazards of falls, said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Falls account for more than a third of all deaths in this industry. We’re working with employers, workers, industry groups, state OSH plans, and civic and faith-based organizations to host safety stand-downs that focus on recognizing hazards and preventing falls. We are getting the message out to America's employers that safety pays and falls cost.”

During the stand-down, employers and workers are asked to pause their workday to talk about fall prevention in construction, and discuss topics like ladder safety, scaffolding safety and roofing work safety. OSHA also launched an official national safety stand-down web site with information on how to conduct a successful stand-down. Afterwards, employers will be able to provide feedback and receive a personalized certificate of participation.

The stand-down is part of OSHA's ongoing Fall Prevention Campaign, which was started in 2012 and was developed in partnership with NIOSH and NIOSH's National Occupational Research Agenda program. The campaign provides employers with lifesaving information and educational materials on how to plan ahead to prevent falls, provide the right equipment for their workers and train all employees in the proper use of that equipment.

“We are pleased to join again with OSHA and our NORA partners to focus on fall prevention at construction sites,” said NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard. “Preventing falls in the construction industry benefits everyone, from the worker, to the employer, to the community at large. This safety stand-down serves as an important opportunity for everyone to take the time to learn how to recognize and prevent fall hazards.”

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