Lawsuits and Ladders

Sumo3-24-Climb1We’ve covered stories like this one before, but here’s a good reminder about the importance of enforcing ladder safety on your property.


In California, a fire alarm technician was working as a part of a two-man crew to check the fire alarms at a care center. During the inspection, the care center provided an extension ladder. The worker fell 12 feet , breaking both of his feet and suffering other injuries, including a compression fracture to his spine. The worker filed a lawsuit against the care center.


The plaintiff argued that the worker who set the ladder up for him set it up incorrectly. He also argued that the ladder was not inspected or properly maintained. The plaintiff also said all of his injuries were caused by the accident.

The defendant contended that the employer did not properly train its staff about properly inspecting and using ladders. The defendant also argued that the condition of the ladder and the manner in which it was set up were safe and that the fire alarm technician had a ladder on his work truck that he could have used. Finally, the defendant argued that the plaintiff was not left totally disabled and should have gone back to work before the trial.

Trial and verdict

The trial lasted for 10 days. The technician was awarded damages, including the cost of his medical bills and time lost from work.

The Lesson

When a worker is injured somewhere besides his employer’s business, he can file a lawsuit. It is important to help anyone visiting your business to be safe on his or her ladder and to avoid injury.

Stepladder Safety

CAGE 8-14 Grand Stairs 4I got an article published on Safety+Health‘s website last month, and I thought I’d share it with you as well.   The article talks about stepladder safety.

One of the most common questions I get when teaching is “How do I maintain three points of contact when working on a stepladder?”

I wish I could just send them to the stepladder standard, but it’s not quite that simple.

The standard says, “Each employee shall use at least one hand to grasp the ladder when progressing up and/or down the ladder.”

The standard says what to do when moving up and down the ladder, but doesn’t say what to do when you stop working. Most people don’t climb a ladder just to stand at the top. They usually climb to work on a project, something that may require both hands.


The majority of people tell me they maintain balance using their hip or stomach as the third point of contact. The European standard provides some more detail: “Keep two feet on the same step and the body (knees or chest) supported by the stepladder to maintain three points of contact.”

Workers may still have issues because some companies have a more restricting definition of three points in their company safety policies. Many safety professionals have told me that if their workers need both hands to work while on a ladder, they need to be tied off. While it might sound like best practice, these rules can cause some problems in practical application. The climber would need a proper harness and lanyard and a certified anchor point with a safe way to connect to it without adding risk. Most likely, you can’t think of many spots in your building with proper anchor points, which leads to operators working in unsafe positions.

A solution

A trend in the ladder industry provides a potential solution to this problem. Platform ladders with built-in guardrail systems can be a safe alternative to tying off. The platform provides a comfortable surface to work from and the guardrail fulfills the need for fall protection without relying on nonexistent anchor points. These ladders, often made from non-conductive fiberglass, are climbed maintaining three points of contact. Once the user steps through the one-way gates at the top, he or she does not need to be tied off and can work with both hands. The operator works in a fully enclosed working platform quickly and safely with two hands while still complying with industry regulations.


OSHA Violations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced the 10 most frequently cited workplace safety violations for fiscal year 2017 in October.

Fall protection was #1. According to  Ed Foulke, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta and the former head of OSHA under George W. Bush, fall protection is such a big category because a lot of fatalities are due to falls.

Here are the top 10 cited violations as announced by OSHA at the National Safety Council’s 2017 Congress and Expo in Indianapolis in September:

1. Fall Protection. There were 6,072 fall protection violations in the construction industry. This number is down from 6,906 in fiscal year 2016. These violations include failing to guard edges and open sides to prevent workers from falling.

2. Hazard Communication. There were 4,176 citations in 2017, which is down from 5,665 in 2016. Employers that use hazardous chemicals must have a written hazard communication program. They are also required to label all containers and provide safety data sheets and training to employees.

3. Scaffolding. There were fewer scaffolding violations in the construction industry in 2017 (3,288) than in 2016 (3,900). Safety violations include issues with scaffold construction, employee access to scaffolding surfaces and lack of guardrails.

4. Respiratory Protection. Violations fell by 476 to 3,097 in 2017. Violations include failing to have a written respiratory-protection program and failing to conduct required medical examinations for workers who use respirators.5. Lockout/Tagout. Violations have dropped by 529 to 2,877. Lockout/tagout procedures are meant to safeguard employees when machinery starts up unexpectedly or when hazardous energy is released during maintenance activities. Failing to train workers or conduct periodic inspections account for many violations.

6. Ladders. Improper use of ladders resulted in 2,241 citations in 2017 compared to 2,625 in 2016.

7. Powered Industrial Trucks. Forklift drivers must be trained, certified and reevaluated every three years. Improper fork lift use and training account for many violations. There were 2,162 violations in 2017 compared to 2,855 in 2016.

8. Machine Guarding. There were 1,933 total violations in 2017—down from 2,448 in 2016. Machine guarding is meant to protect workers from point-of-operation hazards and dangers caused by ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks. Point-of-operation hazards account for most violations.

9. Fall Protection Training Requirements. There were 1,523 fall protection training violations in 2017. This category wasn’t on the top ten list in 2016.

10. Electrical Wiring Methods. Faulty electrical wiring methods accounted for 1,405 violations—down from 1,937 in 2016. Frequent violations include improper use of extension cords. 

Here are a couple of tips to help with compliance:

Many of the frequent violations on the list relate to training,  and employers should check and update training to make sure all employees are being trained adequately.

Even if your company doesn’t have a full-time safety professional, there are things you can do to help decrease workplace accidents.

  • Hold weekly safety talks. Review OSHA standards and train employees for about 15 minutes on one topic each week. After a year, an employer should have touched on all the relevant topics at least once.
  • Post a list of safety rules and enforce them. Help your employees become familiar with the rules and understand what violations won’t be tolerated.
  • Whenever there is an accident, perform an accident investigation to figure out the cause and how to prevent the accident in the future. You can do the same for near-accidents.

Following these steps can help build a culture of safety and can help prevent workplace accidents.

Ladder Safety in Australia

This week, I ran across an article about ladder safety in Australia.

An Australian study found ladder falls are the most common accident for DIYers in Australia. It is summer in Australia and the prime time to get projects done.  Statistically, more people on ladders increases the chance of a ladder accident.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare,than a third of DIY injuries in 2013-14 came from falls from ladders.

Almost two-thirds of those falls caused a bone fracture.

The second leading cause of injury was contact with power tools or household machinery. Two hundred eighty-three people had partial or complete finger amputations due to a powered saw. It’s crazy, but also important to remember that more accidents happen with ladders than with any other hazard.

 Rachel Meade, injury prevention manager, has a message for DIYers.

“The weather’s improving, so people will have a tendency to get out and start doing some things,” she said. “We would just encourage them to use the right protective equipment, make sure they have the right tools for the job and be aware of their own skill level. I think it’s just about being aware of your own abilities and recognizing that as people are getting older they might need to get people in to do things they would have done before.”

Meade’s message is great for anyone who is using a ladder. Let’s remember what she said and work to prevent ladder accidents.

Why is ladder safety training so important?

1c46097e-cebd-4999-a526-da8a684ca526-originalSome people ask me, “Is ladder safety really that important?”

The answer is YES!

Here are a few ways having solid ladder safety can be beneficial.

Preventing Accidents

The number one way ladder safety training can help your company is by preventing accidents. When you team gets the proper training, they will have the tools they need to use the ladder safely and will be less likely to be involved in a ladder accident.

Decreasing Costs

With the decrease in ladder accidents, there will also be a decrease in costs. The employer will not have to pay for medical bills, workers’ comp or other accident-related expenses.

Building Teamwork

One of the topics I cover in my training is helping your teammates be safe. Once your team is trained, they will have the knowledge and be empowered to encourage each other to be safe. Another tip I don’t normally cover in my training is to have some sort of motivation to encourage safety.

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