08 December 2015 by David Antle
Falls from ladders represent a significant injury event in Canada and the United States. Annually, more than 40 000 people are injured from falls in Canada (OHS Canada), and falls from heights are reported to be the 2nd most prevalent injury-causing event in the United States (U.S. Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011).
While many of these injuries occur in occupational settings, the number of ladder-related falls are also high when performing activities at home. Perhaps this is no more obvious than during the Holiday Season in December, as many of us climb on ladders to install lighting and decorations both inside and outside of the house.
Protecting ourselves from falls and injuries during Holiday decorating is important to ensure we spend the season celebrating and enjoying time with family and friends. A recent article published in the Journal of Biomechanics outlines some key considerations to help maintain our balance and safety on ladders.
In their article, Schnorenberg et al. (2015) looked at how grasping actions with the hands can influence ability to recover from slipping on a ladder, thus preventing falls. Specifically, they looked at how muscle activation strategies to recover stability are influences by grips on ladder rungs versus side rails of the ladder. They found that when experienced ladder users lost their balance, faster onset of muscle efforts to attempt to regain balance occurred when grasping at the rungs, rather than the side rails.
Considering the limited amount of critical time which may be available after losing balance before a fall occurs, you would be wise to remember:
1) While climbing, use hand gripping on the rungs rather than the side rails to improve balance and recovery after any potential slips.
2) If you are working while on the ladder to hang decorations and lights and begin to lose balance, reach for the rungs rather than the side rails to reduce the time required to recover balance.
The benefits of these strategies may also be reflected in increased force you can exert from using a power grip on a rung, when compared to the widened and weaker hand griping on the side rails.
Even when considering this rung gripping strategy to regain balance, there is no substitute or preventing loss of balance in the first place, however. It is important to keep in mind:
1) Choose a ladder that is appropriately sized for the job you are doing.
2) Do not climb or stand on the highest rung(s) of the ladder to do work.
3) When working from a ladder, prevent over reaching as this will cause shifts in ladder balance point and may cause loss of stability and falling. Climb down and reposition the ladder, rather than over reach.
4) When working from a ladder in a stationary position, maintain both feet in contact with a step/rung to improve stability.
5) Ensure proper angles/support base for the ladder on solid ground that will not shift during your climbing or work.
6) Have a 2nd person spot your climbing and work activities and provide support for the ladder base.
Have a safe, happy and wonderful holiday season from EWI Works!
Alyssa J. Schnorenberg, Naira H. Campbell-Kyureghyan, Kurt E. Beschorner, Biomechanical response to ladder slipping events: Effects of hand placement, Journal of Biomechanics, Volume 48, Issue 14, 5 November 2015, Pages 3810-3815
OHS Canada. http://www.ohscanada.com/overtime/people-are-falling-statistics-are-not/
U.S. Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011. National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. U.S. Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, D.C.