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How to Reduce the Frequency of Falls from Ladders

- May 8, 2017 by Brian Piñon (View all posts by Brian)

Falls from elevation are the leading cause of death in the construction industry. Of those falls requiring an emergency room visit, it is estimated that 81% involve a ladder. The most common issue I see contractors wrestling with when it comes to ladder safety is how to motivate workers to follow safe work practices. The majority of falls from ladders involve an unsafe behavior on the part of the worker. Reducing the frequency of these behaviors is a tangible way to reduce your risk and thus the frequency of ladder accidents.  

Not long ago I met with a painting contractor to review a recent accident. The injured worker was about 15 feet up an extension ladder and fell after losing their balance while leaning out beyond the side rails to extend their reach. During our discussion, the exasperated owner exclaimed, “I’ve told them a thousand times not to lean past the rails. It’s common sense!”

The idea that safety is common sense and that we can impact worker behaviors by merely giving them a list of do’s and don’ts is a prevalent viewpoint among business leaders. The reality, however, is that workers respond to incentives and disincentives. A painter who gets to go home earlier if the job gets finished ahead of schedule is incentivized to take shortcuts to make that happen–that is common sense. They may have been occasionally leaning beyond the side rails for years without incident and thus determine, that to them, the risk is worth the time saved. Alternatively, a worker who is periodically rewarded by their foreman with recognition for following safe work practices, and consistently reprimanded when they are observed to be in non-compliance, is incentivized to conduct their work safely–this also is common sense.

OSHA designates May 8-12 as  National Stand-Down for Safety Week and created a campaign to help prevent falls in construction.  Click here to learn more.

Successfully impacting worker behaviors means assessing the incentives and disincentives for the desired and undesired behaviors. This will allow you to intentionally craft a culture where doing the job the safe way actually is common sense. What incentives and disincentives may be leading your workers to take shortcuts with ladders?




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