Injuries associated with ladder falls have been steadily increasing in Australia, especially among men aged 60 years and older doing work in and around the home.

Paul’s story

Ladder safety matters - Paul - 1050x600

Paul was making the most of his retirement by painting the exterior of his house. It was a job that had needed to be done for a while, and now he had the time, he got to work sanding and painting the weatherboards.

He was racing the sun at the end of the day. It was starting to get dark, his glasses were covered in sawdust, and he was tired, but he just wanted to get the job done.

Paul was a more than two metres up the ladder with the sander, when he reached out to strip the last couple of weatherboards. He hadn’t stabilised the ladder and he was overreaching. The ladder went out from underneath him and he fell and hit his head on the concrete driveway.

Paul was a nurse for 32 years and he was quite aware that such a fall could cause death. He was too scared to move from the ground.

“I’ve seen injuries from lesser trauma that resulted in paraplegia or quadriplegia, so I was worried that I had done something really bad,” explains Paul.

While Paul escaped both paraplegia and quadriplegia, he had suffered fractured ribs and a pneumothorax, and his back was in a lot of pain.

“I’ve always been independent and I still want to do things, but my back pain slows me down,” Paul says.

“Once upon a time I could spend all day doing quite vigorous work, now I can only spend a short amount of time,” he explains. “After just a bit of gardening I’m in pain – and the next day as well. The physical pain exacerbates how you feel in general.”

Paul still does things around the home. He’s been up the ladder again. He’s even painted other parts of the house; however that one section remains unfinished. He can’t bring himself to paint that wall just yet.

He realises now that he made a few bad decisions on the day. The biggest issue was that he was overreaching, rather than going down the ladder, moving it, and climbing back up again.

“At the time, I just wanted to hurry it up,” Paul says. “Now I take all the time in the world.”

“I’ll take 10 minutes just to stabilise the ladder. I’ll also take my mobile with me, just in case something happens.”

“If you’re going up the ladder, don’t leave it up to chance.”

Ladder safety tips

Make sure your ladder is safe and right for the job

  • Use a Standards-approved ladder (Australian Standard AS/NZS 1892).
  • Read the manufacturer’s advice and follow safety warnings.
  • Check that your ladder is in good working order (for example, ensure it is free of rust, has non-slip safety feet, and that safety locks and braces are in place).
  • Make sure the ladder is rated for the weight you need it to carry – your weight, the weight of tools and supplies, and any objects placed on the ladder).
  • Make sure that the ladder you choose is right for the task.

Work in the right conditions

  • Work up a ladder in suitable weather conditions (for example, a hot day may cause you to get dizzy and lose balance, a wet day may cause you or the ladder to slip, high winds could cause the ladder to fall).
  • Make sure your ladder is not placed in front of outward-opening doors or windows.

Take the time to set up your ladder safely

  • Place the ladder on dry, firm and level ground.
  • Always ensure the ladder is locked firmly into place before use.
  • Make sure the ladder is the right height for the job.
  • If you're working on an extension ladder, ensure it reaches about one metre above the surface it rests against and secure it at the top.

Work safely up the ladder

  • Wear non-slip footwear.
  • Work within your arm’s reach and avoid leaning out – it is much safer to get down and readjust the ladder.
  • Maintain three points of contact at all times while on the ladder. Use two hands when climbing. When using a tool, make sure both feet and your other hand are secure on the ladder.
  • Only climb as far as the second step from the top of a step ladder or the third step/rung from the top of an extension ladder.

Know your limits

  • Work within your limits and make sure another person is at home while you are working with a ladder, in case you need help.
  • Have another person around to hold the ladder to prevent it from slipping.
  • If you are affected by medication, have a medical condition that could affect your strength or balance, or if you just don't feel well, leave the task for another day or ask someone to help.
  • If you are 65 years or older (or 50 years or older and of Aboriginal descent) and you need assistance with basic maintenance around your home, contact My Aged Care by calling 1800 200 422 or visiting My Aged Care.

Paul's story is also available in languages other than English.

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Last updated: September 2016

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