Ladders in the workplace

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 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. 

Speak up

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 Blackburns Melbourne office.

TOPIC: Work rights
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Work related injuries

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Liberty Sanger

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Liberty Sanger is a Principal, Board member and Practice Group Leader at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, co-leading the Victorian WorkCover and Road Accident injuries (TAC) departments. Liberty is a qualified Law Institute of Victoria Personal Injury Accredited Specialist and she is recognised by the prestigious Doyles Guide as one of only five leading lawyers in workers' compensation in Victoria. Liberty says she became a lawyer to help people. “I love getting excellent results for my clients. The process of obtaining compensation can be very stressful and confusing. Having to navigate your way through the WorkCover system at the same time as dealing with the consequences of your injury and the permanent changes to your life and life plans can be completely overwhelming. Knowing this, I am driven to make sure that I take that stress away from my clients and get them the best result possible. I have been told by many clients that having Maurice Blackburn on their side from the beginning of their claim took a load off their mind, and that the compensation I have obtained for them has made a real difference to their lives. Knowing the approach to my work and the outcomes I achieve has had that impact on their lives is incredibly satisfying.” Liberty is Chair of Maurice Blackburn’s Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, which is charged with recommending strategies and initiatives to the Board to ensure that every employee feels comfortable to bring their whole unique self to work and thrive in an accepting and supportive environment. She has also been appointed Chair of the Victorian Government’s Equal Workplaces Advisory Council as part of their Gender Equality Strategy. The Council has been asked to identify government action that will promote the achievement of gender equality, to identify promote and publish good practice examples of initiatives that work to promote gender equality and to consider the issues and linkages relating to pay equity, equality and productivity to achieve equitable outcomes for women and men. "While we've achieved a lot, there is still a long way to go. When you look at the data, you see significant gaps in the areas of pay, leadership and workforce participation, and a grossly disproportionate representation of women affected by family violence, bullying and harassment. And there can’t be any explanation for this other than differential treatment of the genders. The good news is that we can take action to redress all of these things. While it will take courage and leadership from all of us to do so, we will all benefit when we get there," says Liberty. Liberty was raised in Wodonga and stayed true to her roots while progressing social agendas on national platforms through a number of political and community organisations. A self-confessed “committed unionist and opinionated chatterbox”, Liberty regularly voices her views on The Friday Wrap with Jon Faine on 774 Melbourne radio, by reviewing newspapers on ABC News Breakfast with Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland, and as a regular panelist on Politics HQ on Sky TV. She has also been a guest on the ABC’s Q & A TV show.  Memberships & accreditations Law Institute of Victoria Member Law Institute of Victoria Personal Injury Accredited Specialist Australian Lawyers Alliance Member Maurice Blackburn Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee Chair (2017-present) Melbourne Olympic Parks Trust Member (2017-present) Equal Workplaces Advisory Council Chair (2017-present) McKell Institute Advisory Board member (2016-present) YWCA Life Member Emergency Services State Super Fund Board Director (2010-2013) Federation Square Pty/Ltd Board Director (2009-2012) Victoria Law Foundation Board Director (2004-2009) Liquor Control Advisory Council Chair (2006-2009) Media Code of Conduct Working Group on Body Image Chair (2007-2008) Awards Doyles Guide leading lawyer, 2016 ...

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