What’s the old saying? It’s as easy as falling off a ladder? Judging by a recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is easy to fall off a ladder and it often can be deadly.

The study, published in the most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), found that falls remain a leading cause of unintentional injury mortality nationwide, and 43 percent of fatal falls in the last decade have involved a ladder.

Among workers, approximately 20 percent of fall injuries involve ladders, and among construction workers, an estimated 81 percent of fall injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms involve a ladder.

To fully characterize fatal and nonfatal injuries associated with ladder falls among workers in the United States, researchers Christina M. Socias, DrPH, of CDC, and Cammie K. Chaumont Menéndez, Ph.D., James W. Collins, Ph.D., and Peter Simeonov, Ph.D., of NIOSH’s Division of Safety Research, analyzed data across multiple surveillance systems: the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System–occupational supplement (NEISS-Work).

In 2011, work-related ladder fall injuries (LFIs) resulted in 113 fatalities (0.09 per 100,000 full-time equivalent [FTE] workers), an estimated 15,460 nonfatal injuries reported by employers that involved more than 1 day away from work (DAFW) and an estimated 34,000 nonfatal injuries treated in emergency rooms. Rates for nonfatal, work-related, emergency room-treated LFIs were higher (2.6 per 10,000 FTE) than those for such injuries reported by employers (1.2 per 10,000 FTE).

“LFIs represent a substantial public health burden of preventable injuries for workers,” noted the researchers.

According to the study:

  • Men and Hispanics had higher rates of fatal and nonfatal LFIs compared with women and non-Hispanic whites and workers of other races/ethnicities.
  • LFI rates increased with age, except for injuries treated in emergency rooms.
  • Fatality rates were substantially higher for self-employed workers (0.30 per 100,000 FTE workers) than salary/wage workers (0.06 per 100,000 FTE workers).
  • Companies with the fewest employees had the highest fatality rates.
  • The construction industry had the highest LFI rates compared with all other industries.
  • Across all industries, the highest fatal and nonfatal LFI rates were in the following two occupation groups: construction and extraction (e.g., mining) occupations, followed by installation, maintenance and repair occupations.
  • Head injuries were implicated in about half of fatal injuries (49 percent), whereas most nonfatal injuries involved the upper and lower extremities for employer-reported and emergency room-treated nonfatal injuries.