Every year the Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers, processes, and then publishes a huge amount. One of the topics that catches attention is the information regarding fatal incidents on job sites. This is a very serious subject but 2013 proved to be the lowest number of fatal accidents in 11 years at 4,405 deaths. Transportation incidents account for the highest cause at 40% but falls are still high at 16%.
One of the data graphs released covers the subject of Falls from a range of heights. This graph shows that three out of every five falls was from a height below twenty feet and that 11% were below six feet. Seeing the data represented in such a simple fashion does not fully convey the importance. At 11% there were almost 60 fall related deaths where the individual fell six feet or less, a surprising number for such a short fall. The rest of the data only adds weight to the importance of keeping people safe when they are working from any height.
From fall restraint systems to using the right ladder for the job, there are any number of methods to help diminish the number of Fall related deaths
Fatal Accident Statistics for 2013
You can find the statistics here or for more of their graphics you can look here.
Setting up and operating a ladder is a pretty straightforward thing, right? What many people do not know is that falls are the leading cause of death in construction and approximately 25 percent of those falls come while using a ladder.
There is a common misconception that only really tall ladders cause fatal accidents. Many dangerous and fatal accidents can and do occur from working heights of less than six feet.
The Center for Construction Research and Training reported in January of 2014 the death of a 33-year-old window washer. The man ascended the ladder and then tied a five-gallon bucket to the top of it. Instead of placing the ladder so he could wash the window while facing it, he positioned the ladder so he had to work with his back facing the ladder. The majority of his weight was on the top rungs of the ladder and that, combined with the weight from the bucket, caused the ladder to tip over.
A nearby worker heard the fall and immediately called 9-1-1. When paramedics arrived the man was seizing and 14 hours later died at a local hospital. This fatal accident occurred while the man was working at a height of less than six feet from the ground.
Ways To Prevent Fatal Ladder Falls
This death could have been prevented. Here are a few steps that can be taken to help prevent fatal ladder falls:
- The company should provide hands on training so workers understand how to work safely
- The company should provide written safety material that details policies and procedures to be followed to avoid unsafe practices such as:
- Not placing heavy items on the top or side of a ladder
- Never working from the top two rungs on an A-frame ladder and the top three rungs of an extension ladder
- Never overreaching or leaning
- Always working facing the ladder
- Always maintaining three points of contact with the ladder
This tragedy can be avoided by implementing some or all of the suggestions listed above. Together we can limit the number of fatal ladder falls by better training and preparing workers.
OSHA recently reported that there were nearly 4,000 deaths last year surrounding work place accidents and three million individuals were injured in work-related accidents. This is an alarming number and demonstrates why accident investigations are important.
Accident investigations are crucial and help prevent or correct situations where workers could be harmed or injured. The National Safety Council defines an accident as “an undesired event that results in personal injury or property damage.”
There is not a defined set of guidelines on how to conduct an accident investigation. An investigation should generally be as thorough as the seriousness of the accident or event.
Aspects of a Good Accident Investigation
For an investigation to be conducted correctly, the correct person should be leading it. Safety officers, a union representative, or members of the safety committee would be good choices to lead the investigation. The person chosen should have an expert-level knowledge of the environment in which the accident occurred.
It is important to train supervisors or safety investigators the aspects of a successful investigation and how it can prevent further accidents. Training topics could include:
- How the scene of an accident should be surveyed
- Who to contact in case of an emergency and how to tend to injured persons
- How to protect the evidence of the scene
- Determining the cause of the accident
- How to analyze the data involved
- Filling out an accurate and thorough accident report
- Following up to ensure policies have been implemented to correct the problem going forward
Accidents occur frequently on job sites. Many are caused while attempting to complete dangerous jobs or by the materials being used. Some come from environmental conditions, personal choices or decisions, or simply a lack of training. The important thing to remember in conducting an accident investigation is to understand and aim to prevent the cause of an accident, not to find the guilty party.
In April 2013, Gethin Kirwan from Hoole, Chester, UK, fell from a ladder and suffered a fatal head injury while installing guttering at a home in Llandudno, Wales.
After the accident, it was found the ladder Mr. Kirwan was provided by his company was defected and unsafe for work. The feet of the ladder were worn through, some rungs were bent, and one rung was even missing. The ladder was later deemed unfit for use.
Don’t Use Ladders with a Broken Rung
The Health and Safety Inspector, Charles Wilcox, said it best.
“It [the ladder] was in an appalling state and should never have been used,” he said. “All work equipment must be maintained in a safe condition and checked regularly for any damage.”
Like we’ve mentioned before, ladders should be checked before each use. It is very important to remember to inspect the structural integrity of any ladder you are using before ascending it. If the feet of the ladder are worn through or the rungs have been compromised, as was the case with Mr. Kirwan’s, the ladder should not be used under any circumstance. If a ladder is deemed unusable, make sure to mark it and take it out of service. Make sure you and your team have a ladder inspection plan in place so unsafe ladders are never used.
“For ladders, a quick and simple visual check should be done to look for any obvious defects,” Wilcox said. “The most critical issues are worn or missing feet and damage to the rungs and stiles which are very easy to spot.”
This story is a harsh reminder that ladders must be used properly. If the ladder on the site is damaged or unsafe in any way, the job can wait.
Ladder accidents happen every day around the world, some worse than others. Recently, a Delaware high school student suffered a severe head injury after falling from an unguarded one-story balcony at a construction site. The young man was clearing debris on the site as a cooperative education student employee. An OSHA statement revealed the company willfully exposed him to fall hazards by not offering proper safeguards. OSHA officials cited the company with a $70,000 fine for failure to protect the teen boy from the fall by providing legally required protections. Another citation was given because the boy was never trained properly.
Effectively Training Younger Workers
This situation brings up an important issue; how can we effectively train younger workers on job sites in a way they will listen and learn?
It is not uncommon to find high schoolers or recent graduates on a job site. In many situations, like the one above, training is not given to protect workers who commonly work atop a ladder. When training is provided, these same younger workers do not realize the importance or grasp the serious nature of the training material.
Here are a few simple suggestions to help you better train younger employees within your company:
- Use modern, up-to-date videos that demonstrate and show the danger that comes from using ladders improperly.
- Provide hands on demonstrations at the job site showing proper and improper ladder use for each of their tasks.
- Tailor your tone and messaging to your audience in a way they will comprehend. Do not talk over their heads.
- Relate experiences of improper ladder usage and how injuries or accidents could have been prevented.
- Incorporate multimedia and humor. While nothing about on-the-job accidents is funny, humor can be used to hold a group’s attention and to get the point across in a different way than a trainer just telling them. Video clips from YouTube or a popular show can be used for entertaining, training and to show you relate with the audience, helping them be more likely to pay attention to you.
These are just a few of the many ways young workers can be trained on ladder safety practices. Remember, it is easy to focus on one age group, but it is important to realize there are younger people on job sites within your company as well.