Using Ladders – Situational Awareness and Risk Perception

Using Ladders – Situational Awareness and Risk Perception

30th March 2016

Accidents that involve a fall from a ladder happen at a rate of 40 per week in the construction industry.  Ladders are such a common and traditional item of equipment that they often are taken for granted and the awareness and perceived risks (especially at low levels) are often underestimated, with workers adopting an “it won’t’ happen to me” attitude towards their own health and safety! There does seem to be a much greater awareness of the risks involved in using ladders when the work is at higher levels, but any work involving a ladder is deemed to be work at height and falls from lower heights are particularly common.

Most accidents that involve a fall from a ladder, when investigate, are found to have been avoidable and are usually due to the human factor.  Just take a look at the following table:

Cause of Accident Percentage of Accidents
Ladder untied or unsecured 33
No known cause 21
Over-reaching 13
Slipped/lost footing 8
Defective ladder 6
Knocked off ladder 5
Overbalanced 5
Scaffold overturned 5
Dismantling 2
Age of victim 2

That makes for some pretty sobering reading and does, indeed, demonstrate that most accidents could have been avoided, especially when you look at the top cause – ladder untied.  One of the first rules of ladder safety is to ensure that the ladder has been secured before stepping onto it.  There’s no shortage of information on ladder safety – it’s freely available online from so many sources that there’s no excuse nowadays for not making sure you’re safe when using a ladder.  Complacency does seem to reign here!

Familiarity breeds contempt and never more so than when using ladders, it seems.  Research suggests that familiarity with the hazard and complacency towards risk is the most potent factor when it comes to accidents involving ladders.  Workers do seem to recognise the risk but fail to modify their behaviour in order to take it into consideration.  There’s also the fact that if a necessary safe measure is perceived to require too much effort, it will be ignored.  The thinking there is that the effort involved (the extra work of ensuring that a ladder is safe to use and being used safely) is not worth making. 

Furthermore, it seems that large corporations (which usually have a health and safety department) are far more stringent when it comes to the safe use of ladders (and other equipment) than are smaller companies or the self-employed.  This could be due to the fact that larger organisations give more consideration to the consequences of an employee getting injured whilst at work.  The ensuing compensation claims are to be avoided at all costs, which can only be a good thing.  This sort of attitude needs to filter down to the smaller companies and self-employed.  After all, a large organisation will carry on paying a worker sick pay when he’s off work due to an injury sustained in the workplace whereas a self-employed person who is off work due to injury would find his finances heavily impacted.  It’s time for all of us in the industry to make health and safety a priority, particularly when it comes to the use of ladders and other access equipment.