Most academic research takes a long time. Imagine dozens of graduate students gathered round charts and spreadsheets, crunching numbers long into the night. It’s meticulous, detail-oriented work, kind of like construction.
But because it takes a long time, most research lags behind the present that it wants to explain. That’s why a recent report published by the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) focused only on construction accidents that happened way back in 2011. Even so, the details are incredibly relevant.
Ladder Falls Within The Construction Industry
The CDC’s report concluded that falls, particularly those involving ladders and scaffolding, remain a “leading cause of unintentional injury.” Construction and mine workers are faced with the highest risks, followed by installation and maintenance employees.
Here’s a summary of what the CDC found:
- 20% of all workplace falls involve the use of ladders.
- 43% of all fatal falls involve a ladder.
- “Among construction workers, an estimated 81% of fall injuries treated in US emergency departments involve a ladder.”
- In 2011, 113 construction workers died from injuries sustained in a ladder fall.
- An estimated 15,460 workers sustained nonfatal injuries in falls from a ladder. That number only includes accidents reported by employers.
Obviously, we all need to do our part. Reducing the risk of falls within the workplace is everyone’s job, and we’ll cover some essential strategies for ladder safety a little later in this article.
But sometimes it’s not up to us. Try as we might to promote proper safety practices, most of the actions that occur on construction sites are just out of our control. Every day, construction workers are surrounded by contractors, sub-contractors, architects, engineers, not to speak of heavy machinery and electrical wiring. Everything presents its own hazards. And when mistakes are made, workers get hurt.
New York’s Ladder Law: Strong Protection For Workers
When construction workers are injured in falls, New York State has your back. Labor Law 240(1), commonly called the “Ladder Law,” is the only law in America that allows workers the right to hold their employers accountable in a court of law.
In every other State, workers compensation programs have entirely replaced the role that civil ligation used to play after workplace accidents. Before workers comp, injured laborers had only one option to get the compensation they needed: sue your boss.
This was a bad arrangement for a number of reasons. For one, injured workers who lost their cases had nowhere else to turn. So in the late 1800’s, States began passing new laws. In exchange for guaranteed injury insurance, paid for by their employers, workers gave up the right to sue. The prohibition against lawsuits was nearly universal, but one exception remains.
Unlike every other State, New York recognized the significant dangers that ladders, scaffolding and other “elevation-related” equipment present. Labor Law 240(1) was written to provide injured workers the right to sue their employers after falls. It was, and still is, the only State law to extend workers this right.
In recent years, the Ladder Law has only been strengthened. Property owners and employers are now generally held to a standard of “strict liability” in cases that involve Labor Law 240(1). In other words, a worker no longer has to prove that their ladder was defective, their scaffolding unsound, to win a lawsuit. In most cases, no negligence is required to secure compensation.
Were you injured on the job in New York City? Visit our “Construction Injury FAQ” here to learn more about fighting for the compensation you deserve.
Common Fall-Related Injuries
So what happens when you fall off a ladder? We were surprised to learn that, rather than numerous possible injuries, most construction workers who fall are hurt in one of two ways:
49% of all construction workers fatally injured in ladder falls sustained head injuries. Injuries to the head come in many forms but, for obvious reasons, most injure the brain as well. And that’s where the serious consequences really come from. Skull fractures can cause internal bleeding and a swelling of brain tissue that impairs cognitive function. In fact, any blow to the skull can make you feel not like yourself, sometimes permanently.
Symptoms of a serious head injury generally include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Abnormal behavior
- Severe headache
- Neck pain
- Inability to move individual limbs
- Uncontrollable vomiting
Long-term, sufferers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can experience problems with concentration, attention, memory, and emotional management. Any and every aspect of the personality can be affected by TBI. In fact, the very qualities that we think make us “human,” like love for family, social interaction, and simple pleasure, can be detrimentally impaired by a head injury.
Injuries To Arms & Legs
Among nonfatal accidents, the vast majority of workers who fall off ladders sustain injuries to their limbs. Crushed or broken bones, light and compound fractures; the list is almost endless. These severe injuries are a major cause of lost manpower. And when workers can’t work, families are left with rising medical expenses and no reliable income source.
In 1998, three researchers published a report in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine. They spent two years at one emergency department in America, monitoring individuals who came in after falling of a ladder. Although their research did not focus on workplace injuries, the researchers found that 50% of the falls were occupationally related. What they wanted to know was simple: how were these people injured? Here’s what they learned:
- Fractures – 36% of ladder-related injuries involved a bone fracture, which is the same as a broken bone.
- Sprains – 27% involved sprains, when ligaments that connect two bones at a joint are stretched or torn.
- Contusion – 24% of falls resulted in contusion, a bruise to muscle fibers.
- Laceration – 10% caused lacerations, or deep cuts.
- Abrasion – 3% resulted in abrasion, a superficial wound like road rash.
- Subdural Hematoma – 2% of fallen workers suffered from subdural hematoma, a type of brain injury. Traumatic force causes internal bleeding that surrounds the brain, compresses tissue, and can lead to death.
The researchers also sought to determine what caused each ladder accident. An astounding 79% of all falls were caused by two interrelated factors: overreaching and incorrect ladder placement.
Preventing Ladder Falls
The research is in and its results have become clear: we need to make ladders safer. Although many accidents are caused by worker error, including the overreach we just mentioned, ladders also present inherent dangers.
At the end of their report, the CDC made the following recommendations:
- Use ladders less. Try to complete work from the ground, and use elevated strategies only when absolutely necessary.
- Increase the use of alternatives to ladders, like aerial lifts and well-constructed scaffolds.
- Inspect ladders regularly, and make sure they’re adequate to the job, and a worker’s weight, before use.
When you choose to use a ladder, make sure that:
- The ground under your ladder’s feet is level, and its safety shoes are pointing toward the wall. Unfortunately, it’s rare that an outdoor work surface will be level. The idea is to have your ladder’s top aligned with its footprint. Rather than shoring up the ladder’s low side, or digging below its high side, try using outriggers to increase the ladder’s base width.
- Secure your ladder at its top using a ladder stay.
- Fence off an appropriate area around the ladder’s base to keep others away.
- Make sure that the top of your ladder extends at least three feet above the roof line.
- Stay within the side rails, rather than reaching beyond them. If you’re prone to lean, use outriggers to stabilize your ladder.