NIOSH Grant Moves Ladder Safety Up the Rungs

Source: Bjoern Wylezich/123RF

A $1.8-million grant by NIOSH for a study by the University of Pittsburgh has moved ladder safety a step closer with safer ladder designs and individual risk factors of ladder falls.

According to NIOSH, ladder fall injuries are a persistent hazard both in the workplace and at home, costing $24-billion annually in the US where falls account for 26 percent of nonfatal and 16 percent of fatal workplace injuries.

When the fall is not fatal, it often leads to serious injury, and workers who experience a ladder-related fall have a median time of 20 days away from work.

According to NIOSH, there are five major causes for ladder fall incidents:

  1. Incorrect extension ladder setup angle — In approximately 40% of cases, the leading cause of ladder-related injuries is a ladder sliding out at the base due to an incorrect setup angle. Ladder users tend to set extension ladders at shallower angles than the optimal desired angle (75 degrees).
  2. Inappropriate ladder selection — Selection of a ladder with the proper duty-rating is also important to avoid structural failure. However, many ladder users lack knowledge of proper ladder selection.
  3. Insufficient ladder inspection — You can reduce the likelihood of ladder structural failure by practicing regular inspection and maintenance.
  4. Improper ladder use — Activities such as overreaching, carrying objects, applying excessive force, slips, and missteps are also frequent causes of ladder-related fall injuries.
  5. Lack of access to ladder safety tools and information — Small companies that account for up to 80% of all construction companies, and individual ladder users, such as homeowners, do not typically receive the required training for safe use of portable ladders. Such ladder users are difficult to reach, often do not have access to safety information, and generally lack the resources to develop or follow an effective ladder safety program.

Losing one’s footing is a common accident and can lead to serious injury; yet, research on falls from ladders is lacking.

The work at the University of Pittsburgh by Kurt Beschorner, will focus on measuring friction as the pathway for the ladder and individual to influence slip and fall risk.

The lab will use two measurements to determine the impact of ladder design and individual factors on slip and fall risk: required friction and available friction. 

To measure the required friction, the research group will install force plate technology onto rungs and build a ladder around it. They will combine force data with motion data to better understand how various factors affect slips and falls. 

For the available friction, they will use a device that simulates a slip under controlled conditions and measure how much friction is generated.

They will create a slippery rung scenario with a harnessed participant to test whether an individual slips under these specific conditions. 

According to Beschorner, “We will study these measurements of friction and how they relate to slipping in order to establish safety guidelines, which will hopefully lead to a significant reduction in severe injuries and fatalities in both the workplace and at home.”