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Let’s be honest: You probably don’t even think much about the cost of a ladder on your jobsite. But did you know that ladders are a major source of expensive construction injuries?

Every time you (or one of your workers) uses a ladder, you’re risking thousands of dollars related to construction injuries—and not just from falls or falling objects, either.

Ladders can lead to other occupational hazards, including ergonomic and overexertion injuries due to strenuous movements or from carrying or transporting them between work locations.

All of These Can Come With a Significant Price

Construction injuries can result in downtime, overtime, insurance premium increases or Occupational Safety and Health Administration fines for safety violations for your business. (In 2020, the minimum OSHA fines were more than $13,000.)

For an injured worker, it can mean medical treatment expenses, time away from work, rehabilitation, as well as the possibility of needing to find a different role or a job that pays less—it may even prevent working at all in the future. One study has shown that even 3.5 years after a ladder injury, workers earned an average 7% less annually than before the injury.

Though a ladder initially seems like an inexpensive, one-time investment for your construction site, the returns quickly diminish when injuries are factored in. Further, in the worst-case scenarios, ladder accidents or misuse can lead to worker deaths.

What Costs Can You Expect From Ladder Injuries?

How many ladder injuries send workers to the hospital? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80% of fall injuries by construction workers that result in a visit to the emergency room involved a ladder. Most happen when the bottom of the ladder is moved.

Alarmingly, it does not take much of a fall to end up at the hospital. The average fall distance is 7.5 feet.

Ladder falls also cause serious injuries. Of those who go to an emergency room, 14% of patients with ladder-fall injuries are admitted to the hospital. According to the 2011 NEISS-Work survey, that is nearly three times the estimated overall hospital admission rate.

With health insurance, the average ER copay is $250. For those with high-deductible health plans or no insurance, the cost of a visit could be thousands of dollars. If an ambulance is needed, the average fee is $1,000, depending on the service.

Days Away From Work

Many ladder-fall injuries result in time off from work, which can affect an employer’s productivity and mean lost wages for employees.

In one year, over 15,000 ladder-fall injuries from all U.S. workers led to more than one day away from their jobs—but, often, it is more than that. Falls to a lower level that cause serious injuries, which are those with more than five days away from work, result in $2.5 billion in workers’ compensation direct costs in the U.S. construction industry, according to a 2019 study. Construction is the only industry (of eight) studied where injuries from falls to a lower level is the leading cause of workers’ compensation costs and, across all industries, falls to a lower level is the fourth-leading accident causing days away from work, with 18 days away from work as the median number in 2018.

Sadly, falls to a lower level are a major contributor to construction deaths, making up nearly 40% of all fatalities. 

Impact on Your Body

Using a ladder also puts strain on a worker’s back and knees.

In one instance, JLG Industries partnered with DorsaVi to conduct a fatigue study of workers while using a ladder or scaffolding. The test uses electromyography to measure muscle responses.

The study found that both ladders and scaffolding increase the loads on arms, shoulders and knees while ascending and descending and working high and low. For example, a ladder results in a high load on worker’s knees on descent 70% of the time; a low-level access product does not put any high load on the knees.

“Your muscles are constantly being strained to the limit carrying materials up a ladder—your knees, back, shoulders and arms are going to get fatigued,” says Chad Kritzman, product manager for low level access and vertical lifts for JLG. “Slips, trips and falls happen more frequently leading to injury when fatigue sets in.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of all ladder accidents are caused by people carrying items while climbing.

“First, it’s dangerous to carry something while you’re climbing and oftentimes prevents three points of contact,” Kritzman says. “Second, it can lend to overextension of your body.”

A New Solution 

A safer alternative and emerging category of solutions now exist that lower the risk of costly construction injuries: low-level access products, such as push-around lifts.

Not only do low-level access products reduce unnecessary climbing and wear on the back and knees from bending, but they also eliminate other risks. Proper ladder use requires three points of contact, which can be challenging if trying to perform work overhead, such as electrical or mechanical work.

“With a low-level lift, you can always work with both hands with a 360-degree range of motion from an enclosed platform,” Kritzman says.

In a three-year span, 360 workers were injured from slips, trips and falls to a lower level while using a mobile elevated work platform. That works out to be about 120 injuries annually, and not all of them from falls. That is compared with an average of 93 ladder-fall injuries each day.


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