August 15, 2014
Every year, more Oregon workers are injured in falls from ladders than from any other elevated surface. Would it be possible to take ladders out of the picture and require workers to use a safer means to work from an elevated platform? For at least one major construction company, the answer is yes.
In 2012, Turner Construction launched a companywide policy called Ladders Last, which allowed a ladder on a construction project only after the project manager and the safety director determined that it was not feasible to use any other option to complete the task. For those tasks, a ladder-use permit approved by the project superintendent was required and a safety inspection checklist had to be completed and attached to the ladder. Job-built ladders were also prohibited on construction projects.
In Turner’s policy, evaluating the need for ladders at a site begins at pre-task meetings where project personnel and safety managers identify elevated-work tasks, determine task requirements, and consider appropriate ladder-free alternatives.
In addition to reducing ladder-related injuries, using ladders last eliminates the time necessary to set up ladders, can reduce the time it takes to complete a task, and makes handling materials easier. What are the challenges of implementing a ladders last policy? On large projects, the policy requires the full cooperation of the general contractor, subcontractors, engineers, and workers. And – in the short run – equipment costs can be higher under the policy. However, many large contractors are finding the policy’s benefits outweigh the costs.
While a strict ladders last policy may not work for all contractors, the concept is useful because it reminds employers and workers that alternatives to ladders are possible. Typical ways to reduce the use of ladders include constructing structures at ground level and raising them to position, using personnel hoists and installing permanent stairs as soon as possible, and using mobile scaffolds and aerial lifts to complete the tasks.
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