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Ladder mishaps cost MEM $10 million in last 3 years

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What tool is used in virtually all industries?

What tool comes in many shapes, sizes and styles?

What tool cost Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Co. policyholders more than $620,000 in July?

The answer is the ladder. From libraries to construction sites, ladder use is widespread in the working world. No matter what the ladder type, they all serve one purpose, to help us move vertically. Used correctly, ladders are one of the most productive tools we have. Used incorrectly, ladders spell disaster.

Most ladder falls involve portable ladders that move, tilt or shift while climbing or descending. Causes of ladder falls include misstepping or a slip of the foot, loss of balance, overreaching and being struck by a vehicle or other object. Because elevation is involved, accidental slips from ladders can result in serious injury.

Since March 1995, falls from ladders or ladder scaffolding have cost MEM more than $10 million in claims costs. That $10 million represents more than 600 claims resulting in multiple fractures, head injuries, spinal cord injuries, paralysis and even death.

Most ladder accidents happen when ladders aren't inspected properly and regularly, are placed inappropriately or when safe practices are ignored. The result of these actions causes ladders to tilt, shift or fall, the leading cause of ladder injuries.

Inspection. Ladders should be inspected regularly by qualified employees. Create a checklist and have a sign-off sheet for each inspection. Make sure defective ladders are tagged and removed from service until they are repaired.

Here's a list of things that should be included in an inspection checklist:

?Are joints between steps and side rails tight?

?Are hardware and fittings securely attached and moveable parts operating freely?

?Are nonslip safety feet on each ladder clean?

?Are ladder rungs and steps free from grease and oil?

?Are ladder rungs free of dirt and paint buildup that could interfere with footing?

?Are ladder components free of damage, such as cracks, broken side rails and rungs?

In addition to regular ladder inspections, it is important to remember to immediately examine any ladder that has collapsed, tipped over or been exposed to oil and grease. If necessary, clean and repair the ladder before putting it away.

Placement. A crucial element in preventing falls from ladders is making sure the ladder is placed correctly. Here are several points to keep in mind when positioning a ladder.

?Move the ladder near the work you're doing.

?Place a solid rest for the rail tops across window openings.

?Protect the base of the ladder in use if it could be struck by vehicles or pedestrians.

?Don't set a ladder on boxes, tables, trucks or other moveable objects.

?Nail a ladder in place if it will be used repeatedly in the same spot.

?Make sure the ladder selected will extend at least 36 inches above the access area it's serving.

?When using an extension ladder, make sure the tops of both rails make solid contact with walls, and that both legs make solid contact with the floor or ground.

?Place foam protectors on the tops of extension ladders to prevent them from sliding.

?With a straight or extension ladder, make sure that the base is one foot away from the wall for every three feet of height.

?Keep all ladders at least 10 feet away from power lines, especially metal ladders.

?Make sure the ground under the ladder will support the weight.

Safe practices. While 20 percent of accidents are caused by unsafe environments, 80 percent of all accidents are caused by unsafe acts.

When you're working on a ladder, it's important to keep your head in the game. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid a spill:

?When on a ladder, keep your hips between the rails for good balance.

?Always wear nonslip shoes on a ladder.

?Don't slide down the ladder.

?Always face the ladder when ascending or descending.

?Grasp the side rails with both hands. If a rung breaks, you'll have a better chance of avoiding a fall.

?Raise and lower heavy objects with a hand-line hoist.

?Attach light compact tools or materials to the ladder or to yourself.

?Don't stand or step on the top of any portable ladder.

?Mark portable ladders with signs reading "Caution do not use around electrical equipment."

?Ensure that two employees are present when a ladder is being secured or released.

?Ensure that ladders are properly stored and maintained.

?Keep areas at the base of ladders free from obstruction.

?Make sure only one person stands on, or works from, a standard ladder. If two or more people are doing the same task, use a scaffold or a second ladder.

?Treat ladders with transparent preservatives instead of paint. Paint can conceal defects.

The first step. "Training is key to avoiding injuries from ladder use," said Bob Gibson, MEM vice president of loss prevention. "Take time now to teach employees how to use ladders properly. Keep in mind that the most effective training is hands-on and specific to your equipment," he added.

Training alone won't prevent accidents. Once the training has occurred, make sure your employees apply the training to prevent future injuries.

(The preceding article originally appeared in the fall 1998 issue of Mutual Advantage, the MEM newsletter. MEM is the state's largest workers' compensation insurer.)


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80 percent because of

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