Researchers Hope to Make Ladders Safer for Construction Workers

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data show that 81% of construction worker injuries that result in emergency room visits involve a ladder, according to a recent report by Construction Dive. As falls are a leading cause of construction site injuries in the United States, experts are interested in studying how to make them safer. That’s why the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has given a grant of $1.8 million to Kurt Bescorner, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, “to develop safer ladder designs and explore individual risk factors for ladder falls.”

Bescorner’s research “will focus on measuring friction as the pathway for the ladder and individual to influence slip and fall risk,” according to a press release by the university. He said in a statement that “A slip happens when there is insufficient friction between the shoe surface and ladder rung, but little is known about how ladder design or an individual’s body affects slip and fall risk.”

His research will involve both mechanical and human elements, examining “ladder climber populations” to understand different risk factors in groups like “older adults, inexperienced climbers, and people with lower body strength,” and testing the effects of different rung designs on friction. “The team will combine human participant data and mechanics data to predict when a slip will occur,” Construction Dive reports. The mechanical testing will specifically involve the installation of force plate technology onto rungs, around which the researchers will build a ladder, and “combine force data with motion data to better understand how various factors affect slip and falls.” This will measure “required friction.” The group will measure “available friction” via a device “that simulates a slip under controlled conditions and measure how much friction is generated,” and use a human research participant (wearing a harness) to test whether they slip under various manufactured conditions.

In a statement to Pitt, Berschorner said: “The available friction is the amount that occurs between a shoe and rung… When that value is less than the amount of friction that is required to complete a task, there is a risk of a slip-and-fall event.” He continued, “While falls are dangerous occupationally, ladders are also a consumer product, and accidents at home contribute to the annual number of injuries and fatalities.” The team hopes their research will benefit not only construction workers, but everyone who uses a ladder for professional and personal purposes.

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