Stepladder Safety: a tragic story

As I began a ladder safety class this week, I asked if anyone knew someone who had been hurt using a ladder. A man in the class said his 20 year old son had fallen from a stepladder and hit his head. The surgery required was so risky that the father had to sign a release to allow the surgeons to try it. Thankfully, he made a full recovery, but it was a long, painful and costly rehab process.

When I asked about the details of the accident, I was surprised that he had only been using a four foot stepladder. The ladder was too short, so he stood on the top cap and then over-reached, causing the ladder to tip. Once the ladder tipped, he fell to the ground. His feet fell the same way the ladder fell, but the rest of him fell went to the side with the ladder causing him to land on his head.

What We Can Learn

falling from a stepladderThe son had had several larger ladders available, but he chose to carry the smaller ladder because it was lighter. Choosing the lightest ladder, regardless of whether or not it will do the job, is a common safety problem on every job site. Once workers start working and find the ladder is too short, they rarely go back and get the larger ladder. Workers climb on the top rung or the top cap of the ladder to gain extra height, leaving them nothing to hold on to.

Stepladder Safety

Now that you know workers have a tendency to choose the wrong ladder, what are you going to do about it? The most important thing is to train employees about the importance of choosing a ladder that is tall enough for the job. The next step is to enforce this rule. Make sure you correct an employee each time you see him using or about to use the wrong ladder.

Solutions to Stepladder Issues

Little Giant has worked to design a ladder that should reduce these types of accidents. The Select Step is a six foot A-frame ladder that adjusts to be a seven, eight, nine or ten foot ladder. It is still relatively light, but can be adjusted if the worker realizes he or she needs a taller ladder than expected. The ladder also has wheelsIMG_0792 to make it easier to move around.


Hopefully we can do a little better job of training, enforcing and using the better products so no one else goes through what the man’s son went through.

Dave Francis’ Article Gets Published

article on Occupational Heath & SafetyThis is a little Throwback Thursday to the very first article that Dave got published. The article was printed on Occupational Health & Safety’s website and was titled “Higher Calling.” You can find the entire article here.

Article Summary

In the article, Dave talks about the importance of taking time to use the ladder safely. He also discusses the value of having employees complete valuable safety training.

Dave goes on to discuss how to design safety into the design of the ladder. He talks about how using fiberglass-resin-composite ladders can reduce back and shoulder injuries, since they are lighter than the traditional extension ladder.

Dave then talks about making sure to use the right ladder for the job. Making sure the ladder is the correct length and is used for its intended purpose are both crucial to using a ladder safely.

The third point Dave makes in the article is to make sure to not overreach when climbing the ladder. Sometimes, in an effort to save time, workers will reach instead of climbing down the ladder and moving it to the necessary location. An advancement to combat the issue of overreaching is creating retractable wide-stance outriggers that adjust to unleveled ground. These outriggers help the ladder stay stable, helping the man at the top to be safe.

Dave then discusses the importance of overcoming complacency. Ladders can be quite dangerous, and it is important to not become lackadaisical in enforcing safety.

In his closing remarks, Dave reminds readers of the reality of ladder injuries. He says:

Every day, more than 500 people go to the hospital because of a ladder-related accident; 25 of those people are permanently disabled, and one of them dies. A combination of better safety training and the introduction of ladders designed to be safer will literally prevent injuries and save lives.


The article was written and published a little over a year and a half ago, in October of 2012, but the things he talked about are still important. Safety designed into the ladder can help save lives. Using the right ladder for the job is crucial. Being careful to avoid overreaching can prevent painful and costly injuries. Continually enforcing these safety guidelines continues to be important as well.

Public Education to Prevent Ladder Injuries

ladder safety training and proper educationAlmost all ladder accidents are preventable, but what makes them preventable? One of the best ways is to prevent accidents is to provide education. Training and educating individuals on the ways to properly use ladders and prevent falling is one of the best ways to prevent ladder injuries. Without the training, they may make mistakes out of ignorance.

Education for the Most at Risk Groups

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, men between 35 and 55 are at the highest risk for a ladder-related injury. Education for all genders and age groups is important, but, men ages 35-55 should have special attention, since they are more likely to be using ladders and then getting injured by the other groups.

How to Educate

So, how do you educate this group? Some education can take place on the labels and packaging of the ladders, but this education is probably not quite enough.  The first step to educating, is finding where they are using their ladders and what they are using them for.

On the Job

If the group is using the ladders at their jobs, the key to education is properly training them at work. Have them complete online safety training, or bring in a safety professional to train them.  Make sure the safety guidelines are enforced so no bad habits have the chance of developing.

At Home

If the ladders are mainly being used at home, training gets a little trickier. As mentioned before, there are instructions and warning labels. Another idea could be to include some sort of training in the places selling the ladders. Home Depot and Lowe’s are two of the big name stores that carry ladders, and there are loads of smaller stores as well. Any of the stores that sell ladders could include a community training for anyone interested in learning more about ladder safety.

What ways would you suggest for educating people on proper ladder safety?

New Fail Friday Video

We have another installment of the Fail Friday video series.

The video talks about what goes wrong when a man falls from a ladder at the pool. Watch the video and then watch as Dave talks about what we can learn from the man’s mistakes.

Let us know what you think of the man and of Dave’s assessment in the comments below.

Ladder Accident: Young Father Killed

ladder accident robert barr

Robert Barr and his family

One of the things we as safety professionals talk about is how every person who falls from a ladder is a father, brother, husband and friend. It is important to humanize statistics so people are reminded that the one person who dies from a ladder accident each day could be their friend or relative.

The following story, posted on July 4, 2014, happened in New Zealand and is a somber reminder that workplace injuries impact families:

Freak Ladder Accident

A Hawke’s Bay builder who accidentally shot himself in the chest with a nail gun pulled out the nail himself and walked onto a rescue helicopter, but later died from his injuries.

Mr. Barr 31, died early yesterday morning after a freak accident on a rural property in Waipukurau, when a nail gun fired while he was climbing down a ladder.

A builder by trade, Mr Lepelaars, a local community member and friend of Mr. Barr, said the manner of Mr. Barr’s death had rocked the small community.

“I’ve only heard what people have told me but it’s from a really good source. He came down off a ladder, slipped and the nail gun hit him on the shoulder.

“He realised what he had done, walked outside and was sitting on a trailer and managed to pull the nail out.”

Mr. Lepelaars said Mr. Barr was still in good spirits and even walked to the Lowe Corporation Helicopter which transported him to the hospital.

Source: The New Zealand Herald

What We Can Learn

While we don’t know all the details from the accident, we can still use this accident as a lesson. Mr. Barr slipped either as he was descending the ladder or shortly after getting off. In order to prevent slipping, make sure your team is reminded to wipe down the ladder, making sure to remove any slippery substances. In addition, make sure the area surrounding the ladder is cleared to prevent any slipping or tripping hazards.

Next, we have the issue of the nail gun. It sounds like he was carrying the gun and then it went off when he fell. In order to keep hands free when climbing up and down a ladder, it is suggested to keep supplies in a pouch or holster.

If these two simple precautions would have been followed, the story might have a different, less tragic ending. My heart goes out to this man’s family and friends. Please do not let this happen to someone on your team.

This story is a tragic reminder of the importance of being safe on ladders and properly educating your team on the proper safety precautions.


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