Commissioner's Blog: Ladder safety - a rung too many, a reach too far
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With Acting Consumer Protection Commissioner David Hillyard
As the warmer months approach, many of us have a list of home maintenance tasks to tick-off and that might include sprucing up hard-to-reach places during a ‘Spring-clean’, emptying gutters or pruning trees in the garden. It’s timely to talk about a growing and troubling product safety issue relating to the way ladders are used, particularly by older men.
The ‘do-it-yourself’ approach is ingrained in Australian culture and the pride we feel from a job well done is hard to beat. Often DIY will involve the use of a ladder and we also need to get that job right. While the peak age for general DIY injuries is 30-34 years old, when it comes to ladder-related accidents it’s usually men aged 65 and above who are hurt or killed.
Now for the sobering official statistics that show why we need to take ladder safety seriously… The number of ladder-related hospitalisations for people aged 65+ is around 1,600 a year. One third need intensive care and shockingly, a quarter of these intensive care patients die. Of those who do survive, more than half are not well enough to live at home after 12 months.
However, on a positive note, almost every injury or death was preventable and mostly the accidents were down to risky, unnecessary shortcuts. That’s why a new national education campaign is underway to help reduce ladder-related injuries, particularly in senior men working in and around the home.
- Purchase a ladder that is the right height for the jobs you’re likely to use it for.
- Check the weight capacity because you mustn’t exceed it.
- Read the safety warnings and manufacturer's advice/instructions.
Most men know how to use a ladder safely; the campaign is about encouraging us to consider the consequences before dangerous ladder use. Aussie blokes whose lives were turned upside-down are sharing their stories at: www.productsafety.gov.au/laddersafetymatters, so we can learn from them.
Paul fell from his ladder while overreaching to sand the last few weatherboards on the side of his house. He fractured his ribs, punctured a lung and still hasn’t fully recovered.
Nick didn’t stabilise his ladder when he decided to check a leaking roof. He thought he’d be right and it wouldn’t take long. But half way up, he fell. He suffered a brain bleed, a fractured back, pressure on his spinal nerves, a blockage in an artery to his lung and lung scarring. Nick’s wife and son now care for him as he continues his slow recovery.
These true stories are a reminder of the things we stand to lose from a split-second decision. Ignore the nagging in the back of your head to get things done quickly and instead take a few extra minutes to get things done safely.
Choose the right ladder for the job and make sure it’s in good condition without warping. Set it up properly (engage all locks and braces and secure it at the top) and put it on dry, firm and level ground. When climbing, stay in the centre, go no higher than the second rung from the top of a step ladder and third rung from the top of an extension ladder and only stretch within arm’s reach to keep your balance. Remember, work within your ability and know your limits and make sure there’s another person around to hold the ladder when needed or to help you if you have an accident.
When using a ladder, make safety matter.
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