Resource Newsletter Logo
August 2013

Administrator's Message

Ladder safety: It isn't always about training

By Michael Wood

More than 10 years ago, I was injured. Although I was not on the job, I was working from a ladder putting up siding (actually, putting up Tyvek to go under the siding).

I was hurrying – my wife and I had a "date night" and I needed to get ready.

I was a bit out of position as I stapled the last sheet over the door.

The ladder was not positioned quite right either, because the ground where I should have put it was not level (and I was using a stepladder when I probably shouldn't have been using a stepladder).

I fell. And I was not doing a thing wrong … that I didn't know was wrong.

You can imagine how my staff of safety and health professionals handled my injury. Let me just say that it was not a display of excessive sensitivity or compassion, although I did have a helpful ladder safety checklist or two posted on my door when I returned to work a day later. And I was struck by how everyone throughout the state knew what had happened to me – our formal communication channels rarely worked that reliably.

In looking at the fall later, I noticed the positioning of the landscape rocks on which I did not land. I realized that there was a sharp branch where a shrub had been cut back recently. And so I knew that it could have been a great deal worse.

As it is, I broke my arm. That was the first (and so far, the last) time I ever broke a bone. I was not an "accident prone" child (I had a cousin who handled that on behalf of all of the rest of us). In fact, I had always been reasonably careful. And yet, I fell from a ladder doing several things that I knew I really should not have been doing quite that way.

I tell this story (which is not one of my favorites, for what should be obvious reasons) in part because we have recently been taking a close look at fall injuries (and deaths) in construction. And, over and over again, we see ladders playing a key role.

We do need to pay attention to footing. We do need to pay attention to appropriate ladder use. And, I believe, we do need to find ways to replace ladders as working platforms or access methods with safer methods when practical. It is not that a person cannot use a ladder safely. It is simply that we so often do not do so. If there is room for carelessness, if there is room for human error, the simple truth is that it will occur.

Of course, the other thing that struck me about my story was the distance of the fall. If you had asked me at the time of the accident, I would have told you I fell about 10 feet. But the fire department's report said four feet and they were, of course, exactly correct (my head, of course, fell quite a bit farther). A broken arm. And it could have been much worse. A four-foot fall.

We need to use ladders carefully, and we need to make sure those who work in Oregon understand that proper selection, proper setup, and proper use is always critical. But we also need to find ways to take ladders out of the equation when we can. Because humans are fallible, in more ways than one. And we always will be.

Michael Wood
Oregon OSHA Administrator

Full-color PDF version

Full version

If you want to receive the Resource Newsletter, sign up for future issues here.

Reprinting, excerpting, or plagiarizing any part of this publication is fine with us. Please send us a copy of your publication or inform the Resource editor as a courtesy. If you have questions about the information in Resource, please call 503-378-3272.

For general information, technical answers, or information about Oregon OSHA services, please call 503-378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, 800-922-2689.