"Every year there are 300 ladder-related deaths and thousands of disabling injuries related to ladders," says Ryan Moss, president of the American Ladder Institute (ALI), and CEO of Little Giant Ladder Systems.
"Without better training and continuous innovation in safety, planning and product design, we will continue to see far too many fatalities."
ALI has declared March to be National Ladder Safety Month. The goal is to heighten awareness, reinforce safety training and educate homeowners and working professionals. Ladder and fall-related injuries are the second-highest in terms of cost for employers (motor vehicle-related accidents are the most expensive, according to Moss).
Moss has been involved with ALI for more than 10 years. As the CEO of Little Giant Ladder Systems, he's been cognizant of safe ladder use for much longer than that.
He told EHS Today that a few years ago, he read "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action," by Simon Sinek. The book prompts readers to examine the purpose, cause or belief that inspires them to do what they do every day.
"There has to be more to this than coming to work and making money," says Moss. "So why do we do it?"
He asked his leadership team to read the book with him and determine why they do what they do. Was it just to make a profit, or was it more than that?
Moss and Little Giant Ladders reached out to safety professionals to hear what they thought about ladders and ladder safety.
"Every day, 2,000 people are injured in ladder-related incidents – 100 of them with permanent disabilities – and one is killed," Moss soberly notes. "We were shocked and embarrassed to be involved with an industry that contributed to that many serious injuries."
Learning about the sheer volume of ladder-related injuries made them realize that their "why" wasn't making a great product or a healthy profit, necessarily; it was "preventing injuries and saving lives."
"We listened to hundreds of safety professionals – big, burly construction guys – who shed tears talking about coworkers who were killed in ladder accidents and they were pleading for help to reduce those deaths and injuries," says Moss.
The corporate leaders realized through those discussions that their "why" was even more than just preventing injuries. "Our purpose is to get more people at home tonight safely," says Moss, who adds: "It was a real awakening to the problem. We reached the point where we said 'no more.' We're going to bring awareness to our employees about the issue of ladder safety and not just do some training or create a mission statement."
Moss says employees really engaged with the idea that they had a purpose and that purpose was to built ladders that were inherently safe, helping to save lives and prevent injuries. "They realized: 'If we do our jobs right, someone will go home tonight who wouldn't have gone home.' Every rung, every rivet, every weld matters."
Ladders Are a Tool
Ladders are a tool, and like most tools, they are as safe as the workers using them. In the past 15 years, training has increased, but accidents and injuries have increased as well, says Moss.
So the ladder industry took a look at the five leading causes of ladder-related injuries:
- Repeated handling of large or heavy ladders can result in back, shoulder and knee injuries, as well as sprains and strains.
- Overreaching while on a ladder contributes to a large number of injuries. Ladder users stretch out over the side of a ladder rather than climb down and move it over a couple of feet. Doing so throws the user and the ladder off balance.
- Using the wrong type of ladder. Users try to make a step ladder work when a taller ladder is needed, often standing on the top of the ladder, which is unsafe. Using a chair or a stack of pallets as a ladder falls into this category as well, says Moss.
- Using the wrong size ladder. Moss says he often sees workers using ladders that stop a foot or two short of a roofline, rather than one that stops above the roof line. The transition from the top of a too-short ladder to the roof can be deadly. Again, choosing a ladder that is too short for the job often leads to standing on the top cap of the ladder, which also can cause a fatal injury.
- Missing the bottom rung when descending a ladder. Moss says a surprising number of injuries – ranging from twisted, sprained and broken ankles and knees to head injuries and fatalities – have resulted from a worker missing a rung on a ladder.
During National Ladder Safety Month, the ALI members, comprised of most U.S. ladder manufacturers and several component suppliers, will emphasize the following five national initiatives to help promote ladder awareness and safety:
- Decrease the number of ladder-related injuries and fatalities.
- Lower the rankings of ladder-related safety citations on OSHA's yearly Top 10 citations list.
- Increase the number of completed ladder safety trainings on www.laddersafetytraining.org.
- Increase the number of recorded competent ladder inspector trainings.
- Increase the number of companies that inspect and properly dispose of old, damaged or obsolete ladders.
"Ladders have been around longer than the wheel," says Moss. "We need training, awareness and innovation to reduce and eliminate ladder-related injuries and fatalities. We hope National Ladder Safety Month will help us do that."
Safety trainings, industry special events and downloadable infographics, posters and graphics are available on LadderSafetyMonth.com. You can join the ladder safety conversation on social media using #LadderSafetyMonth and #LadderSafety.