Using a ladder can be dangerous and cause serious injuries. We look at how to prevent such injuries while working at heights.
People are often surprised when I tell them that working from ladders can be very dangerous, even when working from apparently low heights.
People underestimate the danger of ladders. They don’t think about the fact that they might become unbalanced, and the areas they need to reach may be precarious. They also don’t realise how serious injuries can be if they fall off a ladder.
A fall of even less than two metres can cause injuries including concussion, spinal cord injury, fractures and brain damage.
We recently represented a worker who suffered serious injuries after falling about 2.5 metres from a ladder. The employer was found to be in breach of the occupational health and safety regulations, which state that a risk assessment should be conducted to help prevent falls from work conducted over two metres high. The court found that the employer had not taken all the steps they should have in order to stop the injury from happening, and thus the worker established that his serious injuries occurred as a result of his employer’s negligence.
Too often I see that employers haven’t conducted a risk assessment regarding the dangers associated with working on ladders, and thus they fail to take sensible steps to protect their workers from injuries occurring from working at heights.
This could happen to you, or to anyone, and serious injuries can occur from lower heights than you might expect. Prevention is, of course, the best course of action. Here are a few tips to minimise your risk of personal injury.
Look for alternatives
Can the job be done another way? For example, on the ground, or another method that involves working at a safer height.
Ladders are sometimes used because workers are on their own, in a hurry or under pressure to get a job done, and a risk assessment hasn’t been undertaken. It’s often the case that if proper planning had been undertaken, the person wouldn’t have chosen to work on a ladder without restraint. No one should take shortcuts when it comes to safety.
Conduct a risk assessment
Ensure a risk assessment has been undertaken about how to complete the job. Part of that risk assessment should be consideration of what tools, other than a ladder, can be used to work at a height.
Insist that your workplace conduct a risk assessment. Make it known that you’re aware ladders are dangerous, and just because there’s pressure to get the job done quickly, you shouldn’t compromise on safety.
If you see any hazards or risks, bring them to your employer’s attention. Make sure you raise any concerns at occupational health and safety meetings, and insist on the issue being taken seriously.
Follow workplace procedures
Your workplace should have policies and procedures in place for working at heights. Make sure you follow these procedures and take care of your own safety. If your workplace runs safety training sessions, you should always attend.
Elevate the issue
If you feel you’re not being listened to in regards to your safety while working at a height, you can:
- Call your union and ask them to assist in having your safety concerns heard.
- Call your state's safety regulator (such as Worksafe Victoria) and ask for an inspector to come and look at the premises and the way the work is being undertaken.
Liberty Sanger is a principal in Maurice Blackburn’s Melbourne office.