Feet off the ground?
Discussions around working at heights tend to focus mostly on hazardous workplaces, or occupations performed on elevated structures. THATO TINTE looks at the risks associated with indoor ladder use in traditional workspaces and the recommended safety guidelines
Daniel Smith, a general worker, has been asked to fix the bent overhead door guard in the office. For perfect reach, he decides to use a stepladder and places it in front of the door.
While working, the door unexpectedly pushes the ladder and Daniel loses his balance. As he falls, he hits his head on the floor and sustains a mild concussion that leads to persistent headaches _ he also fractures a shoulder and cracks multiple vertebrae.
Fortunately, Daniel makes a full recovery, but not before spending a painful and costly three months in rehab and having to be out of work.
Many similar negligent and preventable ladder falls of this nature have taken place in workplaces around the country. The safe use of ladders in office environments, or smaller enclosed sites, is downplayed and often taken for granted despite the dangers and debilitating injuries that can be caused by falling off a ladder.
Any work that is performed in an elevated position should always be considered risky and given the required caution and care _ whether one is one metre above the ground, or 20 stories high.
According to the South African labour guide, some of the major factors that contribute to ladder accidents in the workplace are: defective or poorly maintained ladders; dangerously positioned ladders (ladders placed at improper angles or near electrical lines); and workers not properly trained on the correct and safe use of ladders.
Evidenced in our dramatic example, Daniel broke one of the known “golden rules” of ladder safety _ to never set a ladder against a door, or where the door could open onto it. Having your office employees trained on such basic rules of ladder safety can prevent unnecessary accidents.
The General Safety Regulations 6, 13A of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 (OHS Act) provides a number of guidelines for ladder safety in the workplace.
These include: ensuring that the correct ladder is used for the task performed; never using ladders with missing or damaged stiles or rungs; and ensuring the bottom ends of the ladder are fitted with non-skid devices and hooks on the upper ends of the stiles before each use.
The Health Society of South Africa (HSSA) also gives valuable advice on safe ladder use. For stability, it recommends the 4:1 rule be followed when setting up ladders _ that is, for every 1,2 m of ladder height, position the ladder’s base 30 cm away from the vertical support.
On extension and straight ladders, the HSSA recommends staying off the top three rungs and off the top two rungs on stepladders. Metal or wet wooden ladders must never be used near power lines. Ladders made of non-conducive material such as fibreglass are recommended to prevent electrocution.
The organisation also provides some basic, but often forgotten, rules: always pre-check ladders before use and ensure your ground surface is flat and stable; never skip rungs when climbing; tie shoelaces and fold trouser legs before ascending; ensure the soles of your shoes are clean; always use three points of contact on the ladder (two feet and a hand or two hands and a foot) and prohibit any persons with medical conditions, such as epilepsy or hypertension, from using ladders.
The reality is that walking under a ladder should not be the concern _ failing to take ladder safety and its protocols seriously will instead be the true cause of “bad luck” for your business and for the health and safety of your workers.