Ladders are an everyday part of life for people in many professions, and most homeowners will use one at least occasionally for repairs, decorating, and other odd tasks. They’re intended for a simple, necessary purpose, and their designs have been fairly well refined and perfected over the years, or so one would expect.
Unfortunately, not all manufacturers invest the money or effort to make sure that their ladders meet safe engineering standards, or that they’re constructed from appropriate materials. Because ladders are, by their nature, a product that users must trust their lives to, this kind of corner-cutting can have tragic results.
Ladders Are Involved in Hundreds of Death Per Year in the U.S
Though they rarely receive much media attention, accidental falls are a major cause of death, injury, and disability in the U.S. They’re the leading cause of traumatic brain injury, the leading cause of death in people 65 and older, the third leading cause of death outside the workplace, and the leading cause of non-fatal injury in people 19 and younger.
Ladders play an enormous role in the phenomenon of accidental falls. A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that ladders were involved in 43% of fatal falls over the previous decade.
The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) reports that the U.S has the highest incidence of ladder-related deaths in the world, at over 300 per year, along with 164,000 emergency room visits. The organization also warns that the majority of fatal ladder falls happen from a height of 10 feet or less.
According to another data survey published by Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, the vast majority of ladder injuries — over 97% — happen outside of work, primarily at homes and farms, and the problem seems to be getting worse over time.
U.S workplaces are no paragon of ladder safety either; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns that accidental falls are the leading cause of death for construction workers in particular, with ladders being a factor in about a third of those deaths. If on-the-job incidents really account for less that 3% of ladder-related deaths, that just highlights the sheer scope of the problem overall.
How to Use a Ladder Safely
When and how people use ladders can have a significant impact on how likely they are to have an accident. Both OSHA and InterNACHI provide in-depth guides on how to use ladders safely. All workplaces that require workers to use ladders should provide some form of related safety training, and it’s a good idea for anyone planning to use a ladder at home to first familiarize themselves with safety best practices. Independent safety education can also be helpful for people who will be using ladders at work, so that they can better identify unsafe requests from supervisors.
Here are some key ladder safety takeaways that all users should be aware of:
- If a job will require you to lift, carry, reach in different directions, or spend an extended period in an elevated position, consider non-ladder options such as scissor-lifts.
- Face the ladder while using it, and use both hands when climbing up and down, maintaining at least three points of contact with the ladder at all times.
- Observe all stated load limits.
- If you can’t reach something comfortably while standing on a ladder, adjust the ladder’s position. Do not lean or stretch in order to reach it.
- Do not stand on the top rung, or sit on any rung.
- Never use any ladder in a manner for which it wasn’t intended. For example, don’t use an extension ladder as a bridge between buildings, or use a stepladder in an unlocked position by leaning it against a wall.
- Inspect the ladder before each use, making sure that it is clean, that all parts are in working order, and that there are no visible signs of deterioration.
- Do not use ladders during inclement weather, or if you are not feeling healthy and alert.
- Make sure the ground beneath the ladder is level and free of slipping hazards, and that there are no unlocked doors or moving machine parts nearby that could swing and hit the ladder’s base.
Following these guidelines can greatly decrease a person’s risk of a ladder accident. Unfortunately, even perfect ladder safety policies, perfectly executed, can’t protect users from harm if the ladder itself is defective.
Safe Ladders Should Conform to Certain Manufacturing Requirements
In the 1970s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) officially refused to establish federal safety regulations for ladders. However, by the 1990s, the American National Standards Institute had introduced a set of recommended standards for ladder manufacturing and design. This ladder code has since evolved into a handful of interrelated codes pertaining to different types of ladders.
OSHA also has its own safety code for ladder design, which is mandatory for ladders used in workplaces and a good idea for ladders used anywhere.
A few basic, common-sense precautions all ladder manufacturers should abide by include:
- Texturing or coating rungs in such a way as to minimize the chance of slipping
- Treating materials to prevent corrosion
- Including non-skid feet at every point intended to touch the ground
- Spacing rungs evenly and about a foot apart
- Testing to ensure ladders will not fail under any less than four times the intended working load
- Eliminating any sharp edges that could break skin or snag clothing
- Including a working spreader bar or lock on all stepladders
Ladder should also include warning labels with basic instructions, including the maximum safe height a user can climb to.
It should be noted that the codes from the National Standards Institute are voluntary, meaning that companies and local regulatory organizations are free to adopt them at will, with or without changes.
That said, even though ignoring those codes is not technically illegal, and even though OSHA’s codes only legally apply to workplaces, these guidelines can still help support victims of home ladder accidents in court.
When determining whether a ladder manufacturer is liable for a user’s injuries, the question is not whether the manufacturer broke the law, but whether the manufacturer failed to take reasonable steps to ensure user safety. The codes are full of reasonable, well-recognized steps, and failure to implement them is a strong basis for liability.
Ladder Defects and Failures Put Users at Serious Risk
Of the hundreds of thousands of serious ladder accidents that happen every year, few are given close attention and investigation. It’s difficult to tell exactly how many arise from design and manufacturing errors, but defective ladders do surface on a fairly regular basis. For each one that does, there are likely many other defective ladder models that remain in use, their dangers unnoticed or regarded as normal.
In June of 2018, Werner recalled one of its multipurpose ladder models after one of the ladders broke during use, causing injuries to the user’s left side and elbow. The previous year, Wing Enterprises also issued a recall due to failing locking pins and rung fasteners on one of its ladders. Both Werner and Wing Enterprises can at least be credited with responding quickly after only a few complaints, but the same can’t be said for Frontgate in 2011. When they issued their recall for their closet ladder, there had been 860 reports of spontaneous breaking and 28 reports of injuries.
Earlier, in the 2000s, Louisville Ladder had to issue not one but two recalls, over the course of three years, one for a failing locking mechanism and one for rungs that tended to break along the ladder’s side.
Though it can be hard to imagine a faulty ladder around the house becoming much more than a painful inconvenience, InterNACHI’s warning about deadly falls from under 10 feet is no joke. It doesn’t take a climb up the side of a skyscraper or a telephone pole to make a ladder’s strength and stability vitally important to a user’s wellbeing.
Back in 2015 in New York City, a subway worker was rushed to the hospital in serious condition after a fall from just six or eight feet up a ladder, by witness estimates. Then, in November of 2019, a man fell from his ladder while hanging Christmas lights over the garage of a home in York County, South Carolina. He ended up on a ventilator in a medically induced coma.
Even falls from much lower heights can cause serious injuries, including foot and leg fractures, concussions, and lacerations from the broken ladder parts.
Many Ladder Manufacturers Operate Outside of the U.S, Which Poses Legal Challenges
Most products found in American stores, including ladders, are manufactured in other countries. All of the recalled ladders mentioned above were imported from China, Mexico, or Indonesia, for instance. Sometimes the companies that own and control factories in other countries are headquartered in the U.S, but in many cases, they have no connection with the U.S beyond selling to U.S distributors, or directly to U.S consumers online.
Barriers of jurisdiction and international differences in law and procedure can make it much more difficult to hold companies accountable for putting consumers at risk, but not impossible. Commerce is increasingly global, and so are disputes over companies’ products and behavior. Legal processes have had to adapt accordingly. There are several international treaties in place to help facilitate litigation between entities in separate countries that frequently do business together. When pursuing a case against a foreign company, it’s important to find a lawyer who’s familiar with international law and the laws of the defendant’s country, and used to interacting with legal professionals from other cultures.
Legal systems vary, and the differences can cause catastrophic confusion for the unprepared. China, for example, does not use the evidence discovery process we’re used to in American courts. Lawyers can get into trouble for performing the same kind of investigation work that’s expected and necessary here, and there’s a greater emphasis on paper documents as evidence. The experts at the Stoddard Firm are experienced in adjusting our approach to serve our clients’ best interests across many legal systems and cultures, especially those most relevant to product liability cases.
What to Do After Someone Falls from a Ladder
After someone has fallen from a ladder, immediately assess their condition. If they are unconscious, confused, bleeding heavily, or experiencing extreme pain or loss of function in any body part, call for emergency services immediately. Do not attempt to move someone who shows signs of broken bones or back injuries of any kind.
Slow any heavy bleeding by applying pressure or, if necessary, a tourniquet. If the victim is not breathing and/or a pulse cannot be detected, have a qualified bystander attempt resuscitation. If no one present has the necessary training, the 9-1-1 operator may be able to provide instructions.
If the victim is lucid and there are no broken bones or serious lacerations, apply ice to any bruising, and clean and bandage minor cuts as normal. Anyone who has fallen from a ladder should seek a medical examination soon, even if emergency medical care isn’t necessary.
Once the victim’s immediate medical needs are met, document the circumstances of the accident. This might include taking pictures of the ladder in its current state and position, and writing down bystander observations. If the accident occurred in a workplace, report it according to company policy.
Finally, if you were the falling victim, and you believe your fall was caused by a malfunction of the ladder, reach out for qualified legal representation. We at The Stoddard Firm are always available to discuss your case and how we can help you in a free consultation. Just give us a call at 678-RESULT or contact us through our online chat function.