Ladders are portable systems of steps or rungs utilized to provide temporary access to otherwise inaccessible points or places. They have been used by man for over 10,000 years, as evidenced by cave paintings discovered in Spain.
Ladders can be rigid, such as those used for the painting of high walls and ceilings, or rope, such as those used over the side of a boat or for emergency escape through windows. Rigid ladders are safer and easier to use, as rope ladders tend to swing forward and back during use, requiring some skill and strength to safely navigate. Rigid ladders were originally designed and constructed in wood, but modern versions are primarily aluminum due to its lighter weight and durability.
General hazards associated with the use of ladders include:
- Falls from ladders
- Being struck by falling ladders
- Being struck by materials from falling ladders
- Tripping over ladders – whether erect or out of use
- Lifting of ladders
- Striking of persons or objects while carrying a ladder
- Contact with electrical equipment
Manufacturer defects and design deficiencies contribute to ladder injuries and death in some cases. Some examples of concerns include:
- Metal ladders conduct electricity and pose risk of shock or electrocution
- Locks may not fully engage the ladder into position, causing a fall
- Wood or other ladder construction material may crack or split, causing instability or breakage
- Loose steps or rungs
- Loose nails, screws, bolts, or other metal parts
- Slivers on uprights, rungs, or steps
- Ineffective non-slip bases or rungs
- Loose hinges
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are about 164,000 emergency room-treated injuries per year related to the use of ladders. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) attributes about 175,000 emergency room visits per year to ladder use.
According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, over 2.2 million people were injured in ladder accidents between 1990 and 2005. About 10 percent of those injuries required hospitalization. Ninety seven percent of ladder injuries occur during home use. The most typically seen injuries are fractures of the hands, feet, wrists and ankles, which often require multiple surgeries and long periods of rehabilitation. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 300 people die each year from ladder injuries.
- In 1988, Maxton Industries and Cox Furniture recalled their convertible ladder chair sold through several catalog companies when 24 incidents and 13 injuries were reported due to splitting of the wood and other related defects. Over a three-year period, 4,500 units had been sold.
- Creative Playthings recalled a children’s indoor gym ladder in 1982 when a two year-old boy strangled himself to death on the ladder. Over 239,000 of the ladders were sold in the United States.
- In 1993, Delair Group recalled 7,500 “A” frame pool ladders after 10 reports of lacerations, scrapes and severed tendon in children.
- Super Young Industrial Company recalled over one million two-step ladders in 1992 after multiple reports that the ladders’ collapse and breakage caused lacerations, broken bones, muscle strains and back injuries.
- LB International recalled 1,500 aluminum multi-purpose ladders in 2004 due to reports of bending and collapse of the ladders, including from one report from a consumer who suffered a fractured leg.