Ladders and scaffolds have long been the go-to solutions for elevated work—they’re simple to transport and don’t cost much to purchase or rent. While they excel in these areas, ladders and scaffolds continue to lag in one major, and potentially costly, area: safety.
Like many workplace injuries, most falls can be prevented with the right equipment. Low-level scissor lifts, for example, are compact and lightweight enough to work on finished floors, drive through doorways, and take a ride on an elevator, but, most importantly, they enhance safety by leaps and bounds. Operators get a stable platform to stand on while performing work, and railings protect them from falling. So, what’s holding some businesses back from implementing safer alternatives, such as low-level lifts? One word: awareness.
Low-level lifts show up to a jobsite and are ready to go, and one would think ladders do, as well. Setting up a ladder, however, can be more complicated—something many users would never suspect from such a basic tool. From duty ratings to height guidelines, there are several factors to consider when choosing a ladder and setting it up for optimum safety. Unfortunately, this knowledge is often overlooked and not communicated to users, making the risk of falls a real concern. Here’s what all contractors should know.
Ladders come in five duty ratings: Type III light duty, Type II medium duty, Type I heavy duty, Type IA extra heavy duty, and Type IAA extra heavy duty. Each are designed to safely handle a certain amount of weight. Exceed that weight and physics kicks in with the potential for the ladder to snap and cause severe injury.
Safer with lifts. There is a safer way for workers to haul themselves and their materials to the elevated worksite and that’s with a low-level lift. Workers can place material on the lift’s platform and move from place to place on the jobsite. Lifts even feature overload sensors that restrict movement if there is excess weight on the machine.
In addition to capacity, height is also a critical factor that often gets overlooked when selecting a ladder. When it’s too short, it’s tempting to stand on the top rungs or overstretch beyond the rails, either of which can lead to a fall. A ladder that’s too tall is more likely to be set up incorrectly against a wall and can slip out from underneath a worker because there is not enough friction to hold it in place.
Safer with lifts. Low-level lifts address these potential pitfalls by allowing users to work as high as 25 feet, ample height for reaching almost any job.
Properly setting up a ladder is challenging and leaves a generous amount of room for error. OSHA recommends that users ensure the top of the ladder extends 3 feet higher than the elevated surface, place it at a 75-degree angle, and set it one-quarter of the working height away from a wall. For instance, if the wall’s height is 40 feet, the base of the ladder should be 10 feet away. It’s often impractical to measure for these recommendations—or even have room to meet them—on the jobsite, but not following that guidance can substantially reduce the ladder’s stability. The challenge of properly setting up a ladder is likely why a growing number of contractors are choosing alternatives for their worksites.
Cutting safety corners for the sake of time and effort is also a concern with ladder usage. Overreaching can cause the ladder to topple over and “walking” it—shifting side to side to move—can also cause it to tip or fold on itself.
Safer with lifts. With low-level push around lifts, the user brings the lift to the ground and pushes the unit to the next location. Or, with a self-propelled lift, the operator can simply drive to the next spot. Lifts are required by the ANSI standard to meet a specific level of side pull to prevent tipping when pushing against the wall with tools.
Scaffolds can provide variable working heights and larger elevated platforms, which ladders cannot, but they still create some of the same safety challenges.
Just like ladders, scaffold must be set up correctly to provide a stable framework and prevent collapse underneath the weight of workers, tools, and materials.
Safer with lifts. Low-level scissor lifts are ready to go and leave virtually no room for assembly error. They also make reaching elevated heights nearly effortless. Hauling tools and materials up and down scaffold is a challenging and dangerous chore that can increase user fatigue and lead to more slips and falls.
Once a worker is on the deck, depending on the setup, there might not be anything to prevent them from taking a perilous step off the side of the platform.
Safer with lifts. Lifts, on the other hand, offer a fully encircled platform with 43.3-inch-tall railings and toeboards, which protect people below from falling tools and materials.
When a scaffold needs to be moved, the worker needs to remove the deck and, in some cases, disassemble and reassemble the scaffolding at the new location. When a scaffold is on wheels, a user might try to “surf” an unsecured scaffold over to the new location by pulling on objects, such as overhead pipes and fixtures, around the work area.
Safer with lifts. On self-propelled lifts, the user can focus more on the wheels’ path to avoid obstacles and uneven work surfaces while driving to the next location. Push-around units have automatic locking mechanisms on the wheels to prevent the unsafe surfing practice.
The first step to enhancing elevated worksite safety is awareness. Know where the risks lurk, understand why they are there, and then face them head on. Ladders and scaffolds pose some of the greatest risks for injuries on jobsites, but with low-level lifts, safety can easily be restored.
About the Author:
Justin Kissinger is the marketing manager for Hy-Brid Lifts. He has been with the family-owned business since 1998, and during that time has gained knowledge from all areas of the company, including assembly, engineering, service, and sales. Hy-Brid Lifts is a brand of Custom Equipment LLC. Hy-Brid Lifts engineers and manufactures all-purpose lifts in electric self-propelled and push-around models. For more, visit www.hybridlifts.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, March 2022
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