The ladder behind a third of major injuries last year caused by falls from heights

The ladder, an innocuous piece of equipment tucked away in the storerooms of workplaces and homes, has proven to be a key culprit in serious injuries. -- PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO
The ladder, an innocuous piece of equipment tucked away in the storerooms of workplaces and homes, has proven to be a key culprit in serious injuries. -- PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

THE ladder, an innocuous piece of equipment tucked away in the storerooms of workplaces and homes, has proven to be a key culprit in serious injuries.

It was responsible for more than a third of major injuries because of falls from heights here last year, the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council told The Straits Times.

Its hit rate of 27 out of 78 serious injuries makes the humble equipment even more dangerous than scaffolding.

"Ladder usage is often perceived to be a low-risk activity and safety precautions may sometimes be overlooked during its use," said a council spokesman.

The WSH Council noted that overall fatalities and injuries caused by ladder accidents have dipped slightly in recent years.

Last year, falls from ladders resulted in one fatality and 326 non-fatal injuries, an improvement from four deaths and 329 non-fatal injuries the year before.

Nonetheless, preventing falls from ladders remains a top priority for the WSH Council, as ladders are used not only in workplaces but also at home.

Many accidents happen because of carelessness - for example, ladders placed on uneven ground or not fully extended. At times, workers were standing on the top rung or leaning away from the ladder.

Employers who were interviewed agreed that some workers are complacent when using ladders.

"The workers may think they use ladders at home, or they are using it only for a short while, so they do not need to be careful," said Mr Tony Sim, WSH committee vice-chairman at KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants.

But others also pointed out that worksite conditions, such as uneven ground surfaces, may cause accidents.

Mr Don Wilson Paua, workplace safety, health and environmental manager of construction firm Woh Hup, said: "The workers should place a piece of plywood below the ladder if the ground is uneven. But some may be lazy and do not do this."

To drive home the message on ladder safety, employers such as KFC and Pizza Hut have put up stickers from the WSH Council on how to use the equipment.

Woh Hup has even sealed up the top few steps of all its ladders with pieces of wood to prevent workers from stepping on the top rungs.

The WSH Council will do more to emphasise the importance of ladder safety this year.

It will share the dos and don'ts of ladder use during its talks with companies, and reach out to companies in trades which use them frequently.

These include firms doing electrical wiring and cabling.

Employers welcomed the efforts. But they added that whether accidents are prevented depends on how vigilant individuals are in following safety rules.

KFC's Mr Sim said: "We can't be there reminding the workers all the time. They need to be able to follow the safety rules on their own."

ameltan@sph.com.sg