Every step counts: ladder safety precautions
National Safe Work Month is an important initiative that is committed to building safe workplaces for all Australians. While ladders are one of the most common tools used across countless industries and within homes, they can also prove the most dangerous if not used correctly. According to Safe Work Australia, working at heights is a leading cause of death and serious injury in Australia, with construction workers particularly vulnerable, accounting for 16% of worker deaths in 2018 and 27% a direct result of a fall from heights. Ladder-related incidents also contributed to 30% of injury claims on construction worksites.
While the construction industry’s rate of incidences may not be of surprise, retail also generates a significant number of compensation claims due to falls from ladders. During a proactive inspection program, WorkSafe Western Australia identified retail as an industry with high rates of work-related injury. Falls from heights accounted for around 14% of Improvement Notices issued during the program, with a high proportion of these related to inadequate ladder safety. Undertaking the correct processes when on a ladder is fundamental to staying safe. One of the most common hazards associated with ladder use is over-reaching due to the proximity and position of the ladder when in use. It is important to not only select the right ladder height for a task, but to reposition it when necessary to ensure reach is safe and comfortable.
Roofwork in particular is a common trade that has resulted in injuries and fatalities when working from heights. This is often due to the dangers associated with transitioning between the ladder and the roof if not carried out carefully and safely. Ensuring the ladder is secured, preferably by a colleague or peer, is the most assured way to minimise the risk of a fall. Safety at heights is important and safe ladder operation is not complicated; however, at times it does not receive the attention and earnestness it deserves. Through tailored and regular workplace health and safety training as well as use of innovative ladder product options, injuries from heights can be prevented.
Some key ladder safety guidelines include:
- Examine: Ladder safety begins before a ladder is even used. Check for damage and make sure the ladder is intact and clean before commencing a task.
- Select: Always choose the right ladder style, size and load rating for the task at hand. For example, when working with electricals, a fibreglass ladder must be used to lessen the risk of electrocution, as fibreglass is non-conductive to electricity.
- Footwear: Always wear fully enclosed shoes with a good sole and grip to ensure steadiness when working from a ladder.
- State of mind: Never undertake a ladder task when impaired by illness, drugs or alcohol.
- Contact: Do not over reach when working on a ladder, remain within the ladder stiles, maintaining three points of contact at all times.
Pack down: Never leave a ladder unattended when not in use, especially when children are present.
Whether it is in construction, retail or warehousing, carrying out a simple action such as shifting your ladder to avoid over reaching can safeguard you from a serious and even fatal injury. With work-related injury and disease costing the Australian economy almost $62 billion every year and 101 workplace fatalities in 2019, we know that safe work benefits everyone. Whether you are an employer or employee, it is important to feel empowered to start the conversation and champion safe practices today and always, because every step counts.
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