As statistics show, falls from elevated surfaces are generally less frequent but, in most cases, more severe than same-level falls, such as slips and trips, in the workplace. More so, the degree of elevation varies considerably, ranging from simply uneven surfaces such as sidewalks to working on elevated platforms such as docks and ramps.
Injuries from falls reported by covered state agencies cover the entire spectrum; however, interesting to note, a majority of these occur on walking and working surfaces that are not necessarily of any significant height. For example, a number of injuries have been reported involving stepping off the edge of a curb or sidewalk to stepping into animal holes by those agencies in the suburbs and outlining areas.
As we have seen, falls are the second leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States. Of these fatal falls, statistics show that nearly half occur on steps and stairways.
Steps and stairways can be found in various dimensions and numerous locations. Stairways are constructed out of many common building materials (metal, wood, concrete, etc.) and used to permit transit from one level or floor to another in applications too numerous to detail here. In the home or the office, at the mall or the factory, indoors or out, the act of climbing or descending a stairway will occur many times each day.
Naturally, to prevent a stairway fall, awareness and prevention remain the keys. Before setting foot on a stairway, the following preventative measures should be physically in place or consciously in your mind.
- Whether going up or down stairs, always use the handrail.
- Seeing where you are going is important. Make sure the stairs are well lit with on/off switches at the top and bottom of the stairwell.
- Make sure the stairs are clear and free of all obstacles. Never use a stairway for temporary storage.
- Routinely check the stairs for worn or loose carpeting and immediately make any necessary repairs. If the steps have a smooth surface, install anti-slip tread to provide traction for secure footing.
- Make sure that the edge of each stair is noticeable. If the stairs are carpeted with a material that has a busy pattern, the edge of a stair may not be obvious.
- To avoid confusing the bottom basement step with the floor (a common occurrence), paint it white to make it more visible.
- Take extra care when ascending/descending steps while wearing footwear such as high heels, sandals, slippers, athletic shoes, or socks.
- Avoid carrying vision-blocking loads. Don’t carry so much up or down stairs that you can’t see where you are stepping. Also, keep one hand free to hold onto the handrail. If necessary, make several trips with smaller loads.
- If throw rugs must be positioned at the top or bottom of a stairway, make sure they are securely fastened with skid-resistant backing and carpet tape.
- Be on guard for single steps when entering or exiting a room. Sudden level changes can be hazardous. Highlight these single steps whenever possible.
In addition to the preventative measures outlined above, steps and stairways located outside must be kept free of ice, snow, or water puddles. Keep in mind that the chances of falling on stairways can be increased by inattention, illness, fatigue, haste, and the use of alcohol or drugs.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have developed excellent guidelines for stairway construction, maintenance, and safety in industrial applications.These guidelines can be found at:
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910. 21(b)(8) – General Descriptions and Definitions
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.24 – Fixed Industrial Stairs
- OSHA 29 CFR 1926.1052 – Construction
There are inherent hazards associated with ladder use. Typical ladder hazards include:
- Ladder structural failure or deteriorated ladders;
- Ladders tipping sideways, backwards, or slipping out at the bottom;
- Ladder spreaders not fully opened and locked, causing the ladder to “walk”, twist, or close up when a load is applied to the ladder;
- Using metal ladders around electricity;
- Using fixed ladders without cages or fall protection; and,
- Insufficient surface resistance on ladder rungs and steps.
Employees should follow certain rules when placing, ascending, and descending ladders, which include the following.
- Hold on with both hands when going up or down. If material must be handled, raise or lower it with a rope either before going down or after climbing to the desired level.
- Keep all types of ladders at least 10 feet away from live overhead power lines. Aluminum and even wet or dirty wood or fiberglass ladders can conduct electricity.
- Set step stool or ladder on firm, level ground. Always face the ladder when ascending or descending.
- Never slide down a ladder.
- Be sure shoes are not greasy, muddy, or slippery before climbing.
- Do not climb higher than the third rung from the top on straight or extension ladder, or the second tread from the top on stepladders.
- Carry tools on a tool belt, not in the hand.
- Never lean too far to the sides. Keep your belt buckle within the side rails.
- Choose the right ladder length for the job.
- Keep the area around the top and bottom of a ladder clear. In passageways, doorways, or where traffic or other activities can occur, secure the ladder and block off the area.
- Do not set a stool or ladder on any other object, such as tables, boxes, or scaffolding.
- Do not tie ladders together, unless they are made to be used that way.
- Do not use a ladder when it is windy.
- Never move a ladder while someone is on it.
- Never leave an unsecured ladder set-up unattended.
Other recommended general practices include the following.
- Use a 4-to-1 ratio when leaning a single or extension ladder (e.g. place a 12-foot ladder so that the bottom is 3 feet away from the object the ladder is leaning against).
- Inspect ladder for defects before using.
- Never use a defective ladder. Tag or mark it so that it will be repaired or destroyed.
- Never splice or lash a short ladder together.
- Never use makeshift ladders, such as cleats fastened across a single rail.
- Be sure that a stepladder is fully open and the metal spreader locked before starting to climb.
- Keep ladders clean and free from dirt and grease.
- Never use ladders during a strong wind except in an emergency and then only when they are securely fastened.
- Never leave placed ladders unattended.
- Never use ladders as guys, braces, or skids, or for any other purpose other than their intended purposes.
- Never attempt to adjust a ladder while a user is standing on the ladder.
- Never jump from a ladder. Always dismount from the bottom rung.
Safety devices are available for both portable and fixed ladders to prevent a climber from falling. Safety devices for portable ladders include slip-resistant bases, safety tops, and any other device to increase the ladder stability. A portable ladder positioned at a location where it may be tipped over by work activities should be securely fastened at the bottom and top. Safety devices for fixed ladders include cages (which enclose the stairwell) or a restraint belt attached to a sliding fixture anchored to the ladder.
Ladders that are weak, improperly repaired, damaged, have missing rungs, or appear unsafe should be removed from the job or site for repair or disposal. Before discarding a wood ladder, cut it up so no one can use it again.
Additionally, portable ladders must be maintained in good condition at all times and inspected frequently. Tag any ladders that have developed defects with “DANGEROUS — DO NOT USE” and remove from service for repair or disposal.
For portable wood ladders, all wood parts should be free from sharp edges and splinters, sound, and free from accepted visual inspection from shake, wane, compression failures, decay, or other irregularities.
For portable metal ladders, the design should be without structural defects or accident hazards such as sharp edges, burrs, etc. The selected metal should be of sufficient strength to meet the test requirements and should be protected against corrosion.
Portable wood ladders may be coated with a water-repellent preservative to provide a suitable protective material. Metal ladders and metal parts on wood ladders should be corrosion-resistant and kept free from nicks. If nicks occur, they should be promptly treated to prevent possible metal fatigue due to rust.
Standards for Manufactured Portable Ladders
Portable manufactured ladders obtained after Jan. 21, 1998, should bear identification indicating they meet the appropriate ladder construction requirements of the following standards:
Per OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.21:
ANSI A14.1-1990 Safety Requirements for Portable Wood Ladders
ANSI A14.2-1990 Safety Requirements for Portable Metal Ladders
ANSI A14.5-1992 Safety Requirements for Portable Reinforced Plastic and Fiberglass Ladders
ANSI A14.3-1990 Safety Requirements for Fixed Ladders
For fixed ladders, all wood parts shall meet the criteria of wood ladders. All metal parts shall meet the criteria of metal ladders.
What You Should Know When Climbing a Fixed Ladder
Wait until the other person has exited before ascending or descending.Use the appropriate safety devices (e.g., restraint belt, traveling fixture).Maintain three-point contact by keeping two hands and one foot on the ladder always.
The proper way to store ladders is:
- Keep wooden ladders in a well-ventilated location, away from dampness and excess heat.
- Tie ladders to support point to reduce damage.
- Support ladders horizontally on racks. To prevent sagging, support ladders every six feet.
- Do not hang from rails or rungs.
- Do not store materials on ladders.
- Do not expose fiberglass ladders to excessive temperatures (above 200 degrees).
- Do not expose plastic-reinforced ladder to excessive sunlight. Ultraviolet light may cause the plastic resins to degrade.
- Ensure that storage areas are easy to reach.
Docks and Ramps
The biggest reason to put a priority on dock safety is not so much related to the frequency of accidents in the dock areas as it is to the potential severity of injuries that can occur in these types of accidents. Injuries sustained when pedestrians are impacted by a lift truck, falling loads, or tractor-trailer tend to be very serious and even fatal. Prevention of these types of accidents can be achieved through proper equipment, training, and enforcement of safe operating procedures.
When people think of dock safety one of the first things that come to mind is the wheel chock. This is a wedge-shaped block placed in front of the rear wheel of a trailer to prevent the trailer from moving away from the dock while the trailer is being loaded. OSHA regulations require the use of wheel chocks or other vehicle restraining devices when loading and unloading trucks and trailers. This keeps the trailer from moving away from the dock during the loading process.
It is essential that lighting is bright enough to ensure the safe loading of a product and to help forklift operators see pedestrians. Lights mounted on forklifts aid entry into trailers and ease operations on ramps or in remote areas. Heat strips or climate curtains can help control temperature throughout the building. Although pedestrians must use caution when passing through these to avoid forklift traffic.
To prevent slips, trips, and falls from happening, the walkways, stairs, and walking surfaces of ramps and dock plates should be coated with a non-skid paint. Also mark all walkways with yellow lines to control traffic. Be aware of sharp drops or uneven ground such as a cargo loading areas and try to eliminate these drop points in docking areas by using mechanical substitutions such as tailgate loaders in trucks or ramps that store flat when not in use. Warning signs should be posted in these areas. Never jump from a dock; be careful not to step backward off docks; keep your mind and your eyes on what you are doing. Ramps and gang planks have hazards similar to loading docks. The slopes should be as gradual as possible, as wide as possible and as dry as possible.
Spills may affect how quickly powered equipment can stop and make walking surfaces very slick for pedestrians. Correct sources of leaks, and clean up an oil and grease spot immediately. Dock workers must also be aware of procedures to contain spills, be trained to recognize chemical hazards, and know what personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear when handling chemicals.
Safety awareness is not enough to reduce dock hazards. You must have systematic inspections and auditing, and you must have safeguards in place. Identify sources and types of injuries by reviewing past mishap reports. Management must take steps to organize product movement, control pedestrian traffic, and secure racking. Enforce compliance to all procedures. Plant safety is directly related to the enforcement of safety procedures. If you don’t enforce it, it won’t happen.
Powered Industrial Lifts
Lift trucks commonly leak oil and other fluids, which is a hazard for both walking and driving on the surface. Spills may affect how quickly powered equipment can stop and definitely make a slick walking surface for pedestrians. Policies and procedures should be in place to prevent or minimize spills and leaks on walking and working surfaces.
An additional hazards associated with mechanized vehicles are falls. As is well known, falls from vehicles are less frequent than falls on the same level, however, when they do occur, they are more severe. For example, a common safety violation involving fork lifts is having more than one person (or catching a ride) on the vehicle. The rule here should be a definite “No Seat, No Rider.” Death or serious injury is a frequent result of extra riders falling and or being run over by the lift. Another practice that is too often used is raising someone on a pallet or other platform to, say, change out light bulbs. This is not only an OSHA violation but is considered an “imminent danger” situation. There is a correct technique for this task and that is with an appropriate cage attached to the mast and a guard rail 42 inches, give or take three inches, and the person in the cage is tethered to the unit.
ROLL-OVERS: Methods or means to prevent mishaps and to protect employees from injuries vary considerably for different types of equipment. For example, operators of sit-down rider trucks are often injured (fatally) in roll overs when they attempt to jump clear of the equipment as it tips over. Because this occurs vary fast and the natural tendency of the operator to jump downward, the operator normally lands below the equipment and is crushed by the vehicle or the vehicle’s over-head guard. Therefore, operators of sit-down rider trucks need to be trained to remain in the vehicle and lean opposite the direction of the roll. Conversely, when a stand-up rider truck tips over, the operator can merely step back and perpendicular to the direction of the roll to avoid contact with the equipment. In this situation, the operator should be trained accordingly.
SEAT BELTS: When falls are discussed, one cannot avoid mentioning the use of seat belts on mobile powered vehicles. The rule is, if your forklift is equipped with a seat belt, it must be worn. OSHA, for instance, enforces the use of existing seat belts under the Section 5a, of the General Duty Clause. But, this should be expected since the practice would be no different than disabling a safety guard on a table saw. A more frequent question and concern is: What if the particular vehicle never came with a seat belt or similar restraint device? The answer is: Has the manufacturer of the particular equipment offered an operator restraint system or seatbelt retrofit program? Secondly, has the employer taken the initiative (documented) to take advantage of this program? Otherwise, no excuse.
PERSONAL FALL ARREST SYSTEMS: Any time there is a potential for a worker to fall more than four feet or if the work area is elevated and not properly guarded, fall arresting systems must be used. A classic example here is an order picker truck that elevates the operator on a platform that normally does not have enclosed railings, toe boards, or other similar fall protection devices. Here the operator must wear a personal fall arrest system such as a body harness or lanyard attached to the mast of the vehicle or overhead guard. A word of caution: Of all the restraining devices available and as recognized by both OSHA and ANSI, the full-body harness is the most preferred. This particular piece of equipment distributes the impact shock of a fall over the shoulders, thighs, and buttocks. This is extremely important in that it permits prolonged suspension without restriction of blood flow, thereby, preventing internal injuries, and keeps the victim in an upright position, making it easier for rescuers.