Working at height is a regular part of having ministry property. Every year, more than 500,000 people in the United States are treated for injuries related to falling off a ladder.* From 6-foot step ladders to 60-foot aerial lifts, falls can lead to injury and death. There are some jobs that volunteers can safely perform, but there are others best left to professionals. Follow these guidelines to keep your workers and volunteers safe and secure.
Step ladders are common, but they pose a safety risk. First, working at height intensifies equilibrium issues. If you have balance issues on the ground, they’ll be more pronounced on a ladder, increasing your risk of falling.
Ladders are available in a variety of materials. However, fiberglass or aluminum ladders are sturdier than wood. “When it comes to stepladders, I prefer fiberglass. They are very rigid and don’t conduct electricity,” said Tim Cool, Chief Solutions Officer with Smart Church Solutions. Ladders have different weight ratings, which will be indicated by a decal on the side of the ladder.
Extension ladders can be dangerous, too. Falls from extension ladders commonly occur by reaching too far from the ladder, leaning the ladder at an incorrect angle, or not making sure the extension is properly locked.
Pitched roofs can be very dangerous. It’s best to leave roof inspection and repair to professionals. They will wear the proper safety equipment which includes a safety harness that properly attaches to a roof joist. Resist the temptation to climb on your roof to clean gutters. There are special tools that can allow you to clean gutters from the ground, or you can work from a ladder.
Aerial lifts come in several forms. Two of the most common formats are scissor lifts and boom lifts. While it may be tempting to rent an aerial lift to change light bulbs or perform building maintenance, this type of equipment requires training and safety equipment. OSHA provides an aerial lift factsheet that includes training requirements. If a ministry can’t prove that users were trained, they could be held liable for any injuries. While not a substitute for proper training, NIOSH offers an NIOSH aerial lift simulator to help trained users brush up on their knowledge.
Most aerial lifts require that users wear a personal fall arrest harness. This type of harnesses is designed protect users from contacting the ground should they fall out of the lift.
If your ministry owns an aerial lift, there are storage requirements as well. “To follow OSHA guidelines, aerial lifts should be chained off so they’re not accessible to untrained users,” said Cool.
Any time a ministry has an employee or volunteer perform work from height, it should make sure the user is properly trained, especially when using an aerial lift, and has access to all appropriate safety equipment. “Church buildings are complex commercial structures. You wouldn’t expect to get on a lift at your job without proper safety equipment. It may feel like overreach, but it’s about safety and care for your people,” said Cool.
*CPSC (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) . Unpublished data from the National Injury Information Clearinghouse (CPSC) using the CPSC’s Injury Cost Model. https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2017/03/13/ladder-safety-month/ accessed April 14, 2020.
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