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Falls From a Height at Work: Ladder, Lift, and Scaffold Safety

Posted Scott B. Cooper on Feb 20, 2014 in Workers' Compensation

In almost every workplace, employees are at risk for a fall from a height. Sometimes the risk is limited to when an office worker climbs on a step stool to replace a light bulb or climbs a ladder to retrieve a box from a storage shelf. For other occupations—such as construction work—working high above the ground is a regular element of the job.

When a worker is injured at work due to a fall from an elevation, he should be able to trust that workers’ compensation will be available to make his recovery easier. In Pennsylvania, workers’ compensation benefits include payment of all related medical expenses (current and future), partial income replacement, rehabilitation, and payment for permanent disability. The goal is to restore the worker to the full health he enjoyed before the accident, or as close to that as possible.

But buying workers’ compensation insurance doesn’t fulfill all the obligations the employer has toward his workers. Paying to patch up a worker who has been hurt on the job makes less sense, morally and economically, than working to prevent injuries in the first place. And it’s not just a matter of doing what’s right. Through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal government works to assure that job sites are free of hazards, and it fines businesses that routinely ignore safety rules.

Safety Above the Floor

OSHA, other government agencies, business leaders, labor unions, and private researchers work together to promote workplace safety. Because falls from heights are so common and so injurious—annually accounting for a few hundred deaths, millions of lost days of worker productivity, and billions of dollars in economic output—it’s in everyone’s interest to foster a safe workplace.

Those organizations have provided these key tips for workers whose jobs take them to elevated positions:

  • Do not walk on a dangerous surface. Cluttered, unstable, or slippery walking surfaces are most closely associated with workplace falls. Test every platform to make sure it is secure and stable before committing your weight to it.
  • Watch out for holes. People fall through holes in the floor or wall openings (such as unfinished windows) remarkably often. Make sure those openings are marked as hazards and secured with railings or bars to deny easy passage.
  • Use required fall prevention equipment. OSHA regulations require that fall protection equipment be used when a worker ascends more than four feet in general industry workplaces and six feet in construction industry jobs. Regardless of the height, OSHA requires fall prevention gear when an employee must work over dangerous machinery or equipment. The nature of the safety equipment will vary by job; contact OSHA for recommendations.
  • Ladder safety. A two-person approach is recommended for all ladder operations; both workers must agree that the ladder has been positioned on a stable surface and that it’s in good working order. Use appropriate safety equipment to prevent slipping from the ladder.
  • Overhead platform and scaffold safety. Elevated platforms should have guardrails, midrails, and toe boards. Safety harnesses are recommended for most projects. Scaffolds should be able to bear four times their intended weight without shifting or movement. A supervisor should inspect every platform and scaffold before it’s first used.
  • Lift safety. Mechanical lifts should be kept in superb working condition. Workers on mechanical lifts should wear body harnesses, restraining belts, or other proven fall-arrest systems. Never overload a lift, and never override its hydraulic or mechanical safety devices. Do not move the lift with people in the elevated platform.
  • Training. Providing hazard signs and safety equipment does little good if workers don’t know what to do with them. Employers should incorporate safety training into every worker’s schedule.

Responsible Workers Take Safety Seriously

If you are employed in a workplace that you believe is unsafe, you can contact OSHA and report a safety violation. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for making this report.

If you have been hurt in a fall accident at work, don’t do anything to jeopardize your legal rights to a recovery. Talk to the work injury lawyers at Schmidt Kramer in Harrisburg. You can reach us at 717-888-8888 or 888-476-0807 toll-free to arrange for a FREE, no-obligation conference with a trial attorney. Just for calling, we would like to send you a complimentary copy of our client report, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured at Work? Simply request it when you call.