The Ladder Conundrum

At least he tied himself to the ladder, right?

A few days ago a reader named Dillon asked my thoughts about ladders. It was a pretty open-ended question, but I had a spare minute or two so I typed up a response:

Off the top of my head? I think they’re taken for granted. People use them without looking them over (fixed and portable). Employees are not trained (or very minimally trained) on their use. No one audits the safety of their use. Another glaring issue is that employers are quick to add hazards rather than ensure that they are used appropriately. For example, wearing fall protection while using ladders is often stated as an OSHA “rule” when that is certainly not true.  I think employers could utilize them better or even eliminate their need if they planned better.

Come to find out, his company sells equipment designed to eliminate the problem of falls from ladders. That’s something I can definitely get on board with, so I took a look. You’re probably very familiar with them: JLG LiftPod (Note: I didn’t receive any compensation for linking that, I just think it’s a great tool). Dillon’s response to my comments was pretty appropriate:

Time has proven nothing is working to solve the ladder injury problem, the only thing left to do is create equipment that removes the leading causes of falls.

That’s a great mentality to have about all aspects of safety management. It got me thinking about some of the ladder discussions I’ve had over the years. One, in particular, stands out because of how backward it was.

How Can We Be So Misguided?

I worked for a construction and engineering firm which had established some long term contracts performing maintenance at various plants. As such, they had created a division to manage those projects but had struggled to nail down the organization structure. This resulted in periodic personnel shuffles and management shakeups. Just before I moved on from that role, another of the shakeups occurred.

I found myself sitting on one of those conference calls we all dread. My new boss was an ex-accountant (I think) who had somehow become a division safety manager. He opened the call by recounting a terrifying (to him) experience he had just had on one of our sites. He had watched a technician climb a fixed ladder that lead to a roof hatch. The technician had struggled with the heavy hatch and the sight sent icy chills down our new leader’s spine. I know you’re assuming he thought “that man could have fallen!” If you did, you’d be dead wrong.

As he concluded his tale, he cleared his throat surveyed the group. “What can we do to make sure we don’t get fined by OSHA if someone falls off a ladder?” he asked.

My jaw dropped, but only long enough for a reflex response to blurt from my mouth. “Why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to make sure no one falls from a damn ladder in the first place?” I didn’t hide any of my disgust.

It really is a shame that we jump to legal ramifications before we even try to make plans to keep people safe. Simply put, if you have a known hazard that poses a risk to your employees, f^@%ing get rid of it! instead of wasting time trying to figure out how to talk yourself out of a fine.

Thanks to Dillon for his input on this post. I think it’s a subject worth talking about. One that goes much deeper than ladders, I might add. UPDATE: Check out the video reinactment of the story in this post. Hopefully you’ll laugh at it as much as I cringe when I see myself on camera.


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