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Loss Control Insights for Public Sector

Preventing Falls While Working at Heights

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From repairing light fixtures to installing seasonal decorations, municipal employees spend a lot of time working in an elevated position. Unfortunately, all that time working at heights means these workers are especially vulnerable to injuries from falls. In fact, falls from elevation are some of the most common and costly claims among those employed by local governments.

Many of the claims we see stem from the use of ladders and bucket trucks, so we’ve put together some tips to pass along to your employees.

Survey the Work Area

Plan ahead for the work conditions you’ll be dealing with. Start by surveying the work area to look for hazards that might need to be accounted for as you select your equipment or plan the task.

For ladders, be especially aware of any uneven surfaces that can make the ladder unstable. This includes any soft earth or mud, or any drop-offs near your work area.

Follow the same general rule for bucket trucks or other aerial lifts. Avoid parking on uneven ground and look out for holes, bumps, drop-offs and debris. Once you find a good place to park the lift, be sure to set the brake to ensure you stay there.

Don’t forget that some conditions at your work site — such as the weather — are always changing so you need to monitor them. If you’re operating a boom truck, watch out for a forecast that calls for gusty winds (especially those exceeding 30 mph) or storms that might generate lightning.

Choose the Right Equipment

Make sure the equipment you choose will meet your needs for working height and weight (don’t forget that weight includes you, your tools and anything you’ll be installing). Not sure which ladder is best for the job? Check out this handy guide on choosing the right ladder from the American Ladder Institute.

Speaking of height, make sure you never use the top platform as a step. If you can’t reach the work area from the second step from the top, then you need a taller ladder. Likewise, don’t try to make do with the wrong type of ladder (e.g. leaning a step ladder against a wall to use it like an extension ladder).

If you’re working in a bucket truck, make sure you’re equipped with appropriate fall protection which may include a body harness or a restraining belt attached to the bucket.

It’s All about Balance

Balance is key when working at an elevated height. From a ladder, you want to make sure you keep yourself centered as much as possible. A good guideline is the “belt buckle rule.” Essentially, you should position your body so that your torso (and belt buckle) remains between the side rails of the ladder. If you’re reaching beyond that, it means you need to move the ladder.

This may seem obvious, but if you’re working in a bucket you should stay inside it to minimize your risk of falls. Don’t sit or stand on the edges, and don’t use a ladder or stool inside the bucket to get an extra boost.

Don’t move or shift ladders if someone is standing on it, and don’t move a truck while the bucket is raised.

If you need large or awkward equipment while using a ladder, lift it up with a hoist or lift line instead of trying to balance it as you climb.

Prepare to Repair

Want to reduce the risk of equipment failure? Spend the time and money to maintain your gear properly. If you spot any problems when inspecting your equipment, tag it for repair and don’t let anyone use it until it’s fixed.

  • Ladders: Check before use for broken rungs or cracks in the base. There should be no extra paint, stickers or tape on ladders—especially on the rungs where they can make the surface slippery. In many cases ladder damage cannot be properly or economically repaired, so if you spot severe damage you should label it with a “do not use” tag and throw it away.
  • Bucket trucks: Do a “circle check” around the vehicle before using it, looking for any damaged, loose or missing parts. Any required decals or stickers should be legible and understandable from a distance.

Beware of Your Surroundings

If you’re working in a busy area, you need to be aware of what’s going on around you to ensure a careless pedestrian or unseen overhead hazard doesn’t unintentionally cause a fall for you.

If you’re working on a ladder around a doorway or an exit, make sure you don’t experience any unpleasant surprises by blocking the door or assigning someone to stand nearby and direct traffic.

While working in a bucket truck, maintain a minimum clearance of at least 10 feet when working around energized power lines.

Know What You’re Working With

When working at heights, it’s always smart to know how your equipment operates. For workers using ladders, we suggest training on ladder selection, safe work practices and maintenance. Personnel working on bucket trucks must be trained on recognizing hazards, equipment operation and safe work practices before they get in the bucket.

Find More Online

  • EMC Resources: Slips, Trips and Falls
  • Elevated Fall Prevention Program Template
  • OSHA's Fall Prevention Materials
  • OSHA Aerial Lifts Fact Sheet

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