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Lessons Learned From a Fatal Ladder Fall Incident


Falls are a hazard found in many work settings. A fall can occur during walking or climbing a ladder to change a light fixture, or as a result of a complex series of events affecting an ironworker 80 feet above the ground.

According to recent fatal injury statistics (BLS.gov), there are more than 600 fatal falls annually. Many workers may be surprised to hear that about 2 out of every 3 falls are from less than 20 feet high. Workers should be very aware of their work at any height.

Particularly at risk of fall injuries are those working in:

  • Healthcare support
  • Building cleaning and maintenance
  • Transportation and material moving
  • Construction and extraction occupations
OSHA Standard 1926.501(b)(1) Unprotected sides and edges. Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling...
OSHA Standard 1926.1053(b)(13) The top or top step of a stepladder shall not be used as a step.


A 33-year old worker was injured after falling only 8 feet from a step ladder. The victim was cleaning windows when he fell onto a tiled floor and hit his head. Although the victim was taken to the hospital quickly, he died the following morning from his injuries.

Images from the scene of a fatal incident when a 33-year old fell 8-feet from his step ladder.
Images from the scene of a fatal incident when a 33-year old fell 8-feet from his step ladder.

According to the investigators, it is believed that the victim was standing backwards on the step ladder, facing away from the step ladder and also working from the top step of the ladder. While the employer was a family-owned company that had been in business for 23 years, they did not have a written safety and health program. The employer did claim to provide safety training, but did not retain any documentation for the safety training.

Some of the lessons learned from this incident include:

  • Never stand on the top step of a ladder.
  • Always face the ladder when climbing up or down the ladder and working.
  • When possible, eliminate the need to climb a ladder to clean windows by implementing an engineering control measure like using extender poles with a squeegee system or using an aerial lift that provides better fall protection
  • Ensure that all employees are aware how to properly use ladders in a manner that minimizes the risks of injury caused by falling from a ladder.

To read more about this incident, you can find the full report here: NIOSH In-House FACE Report 2009-01

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