Ladder Safety Month: Slips, Trips and Falls

  • Published
  • By Richard Fleming
  • AEDC Safety

I had started gathering information for this article, it is Ladder Safety Month after all, when I was interrupted by a call from a buddy of mine telling me that his wife had slipped in the mud, fell to her knees, and broken her femur.

She was not jumping or falling from a height or doing something she shouldn’t. She went from walking to having a broken bone, which required emergency surgery and several weeks with no weight on the leg and hours of rehab.

But she is not alone.

According to the National Safety Council, or NSC, in 2021 hundreds of thousands of workers were injured badly enough to require time off work and 850 workers died in falls. 

A worker doesn't have to fall from a high level to suffer fatal injuries; 136 workers were killed in falls on the same level in 2020, according to the website, Injury Facts.

Construction workers are most at risk for fatal falls from height – more than seven times the rate of other industries – but falls can happen anywhere, even at a desk job or walking out to your car. It only takes a half of a second to go from standing to hitting the ground.

So, what is the difference between a slip, a trip and a fall?

1.    Slip. Slipping is the loss of balance caused by too little friction between your feet and the surface you walk on. Examples include wet or oily surfaces, spills, loose rugs or mats, and weather hazards such as mud, ice, snow, rain, frost.

2.    Trip. Tripping is to catch one’s foot on something and then to stumble. Some causes include obstructed view, uneven walking surfaces, clutter or debris, along with cords, cables or hoses. 

3.    Fall. Falls occur whenever you move too far off your center of balance and may be at same level or from heights. All elevated surfaces, including ladders, roofs, stairs, scaffolds, and work platforms, present hazards. High winds and wet or icy conditions can greatly increase the threat.

Falls are 100% preventable. March is Ladder Safety Month. Whether working from a ladder, roof, or scaffolding, it's important to plan, assess the risk and use the right equipment.

First, determine if working from a height is necessary or if there is another way to do the task safely. Then continue with the following:

•      Look at your workplace. Is it safe?

•      Acquire the tools required that you have been trained to use.

•      Check the ladder carefully before each use.

•      Always keep three points of contact, two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on the ladder.

•      Place the ladder on a solid surface.

•      An extension ladder should extend at least 3 feet over the top edge and be 1 foot away from the surface it rests on for every 4 feet of height. 

•      Wear slip-resistant shoes.

•      Don't stand higher than the third rung from the top.

•      Don't lean or reach while on a ladder.

•      Keep your belt buckle between the uprights.

•      Have someone support the ladder.

If you are working from home, follow all the same rules. One of my co-workers from my last job was cleaning the gutters on his house, leaned to far, fell and broke both ankles. This caused him to miss eight weeks of work.

We tend to think we're always safe on flat ground, but the thousands of injuries each year tell us otherwise.

Falls are the number one cause of death for older adults. Be sure you keep floors and surfaces clear of clutter, and cords out of walkways. Never stand on anything not made for that purpose, and keep walkways well lit.

More than 6.9 million people were treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries in 2021. A fall can end in death or disability in a split second, but with a few simple precautions, you'll be sure stay safe at home and at work.

Be constantly aware of your surroundings and equipment such as uneven surfaces, spills, lighting, housekeeping, warning signs, the weather, footwear, ladders, scaffolds and platforms.

Keep drawers, cabinets and other storage items closed when not in use. Hide cables, extension cords and wires in protective covers. Inspect floors regularly for cracks, holes, missing blocks, uneven surfaces and other hazards that can trip people. Install mats, abrasive-filled paint-on coating, pressure-sensitive abrasive strips and synthetic decking. They provide enough friction and reduce foot fatigue.

Lastly, a well-thought safety plan cements all efforts in promoting fall protection, especially in high-risk workspaces. Take a moment right now to look around your work area and be sure there are no hazards. If you see something, fix it or at least say something.

Take care of each other.