LAFD at Odds with Cal/OSHA Over Ladder Safety

Los Angeles, CA – The LA Times reports that one year after a firefighter’s deadly fall, L.A. is fighting an order from state safety regulators.

Firefighter Kelly Wong died in June 2017 following a fall from a ladder during a training exercise. The 27-year-old made it more than halfway up the ladder, leaning against the Barclay Hotel at a 73-degree angle. But then the 29-year-old lost his footing, falling from the ladder onto the fire truck below. He died from his injuries two days later.

Shortly after Wong’s death, the Fire Department conducted a three-day “safety stand down,” with personnel going over an array of procedures, including use of aerial ladders.

According to the report, lawyers for the Los Angeles Fire Department are at odds with workplace safety regulators over their investigation into the incident, the first fatality during a department training exercise since 1985.

Cal/OSHA sent the Fire Department a special order in December instructing it to establish and implement procedures for using aerial ladders safely.

The department must ensure that workers maintain three points of contact with a ladder at all times — either two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, Cal/OSHA said in its order.

After visiting the accident site, safety regulators concluded that Wong had been holding a Fire Department “roof kit,” or two metal hooks strapped together, while he was on the ladder.

Cal/OSHA officials said their order will require the city to take corrective steps to prevent serious and fatal falls in the future.

But the Fire Department has filed an appeal, calling the order “vague and ambiguous” and arguing that it provided little guidance on how to comply.

One Cal/OSHA citation said the Fire Department had been using its aerial ladder in a manner “contrary to manufacturers’ recommendations,” by failing to extend it above the roof line of the Barclay Hotel.

The city’s deputy assistant attorney has disputed those conclusions, saying in the city’s written appeal that extending the ladder above the roof can be “contrary to the safety of the employee.”

He warned the practice could also prevent the department from carrying out its core mission — saving lives and rescuing members of the public.