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Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series focusing on risk management practices for the pest management industry. The articles are based on presentations from the PestSure Safety and Loss Prevention Conference where PMPs gathered to hear the latest strategies for protecting their employees, customers, and businesses from a variety of threats. In business for more than 30 years, PestSure is a nationwide association providing insurance and risk management services that is owned and operated by pest management professionals.

“It’s not the fall that will hurt you, it’s the landing.” This adaptation of an often-used saying is one pest management professionals should listen to closely.

Falls from ladders or roofs while performing exclusion or bird remediation work or while conducting inspections, are more common across the industry than most would hope.

How do owners and managers responsible for safety programs create and effectively manage a fall protection program in their organization?

Richard Spencer, A.C.E., director of safety and risk management for Arrow Exterminators in Atlanta, says it is not only the ethical thing to do but an OSHA mandate for owners and managers to put a meaningful ladder safety and fall protection plan in place for their team members and keep them free of hazards.

“It starts with having a working knowledge and understanding of what jobs service professionals and inspectors perform that involve ladders or fall protection,” says Spencer. “Knowing what your team members are up against and what they need in terms of training and equipment is essential.”

Putting that knowledge in to practice starts with the equipment. Does your company have the proper ladders for the work it is performing? Are the ladders working properly? Are the proper safety accessories available for the ladders?

“It is important to invest in not only good, quality ladders but the necessary safety accessories such as stabilizers and levelers,” says Spencer.

A CULTURE OF SAFETY. Complacency is the number one enemy of safety in the workplace. That complacency usually starts in a lack of consistent training for field personnel.

“Knowledge is power, but the application of that knowledge is priceless,” says Spencer. “Service professionals must apply their knowledge of ladder usage and fall safety in the field, and that starts with consistent and repetitive training.”

Proper ladder and fall protection safety training begins with the basics:

  • How to safely lift ladders on and off service vehicles.
  • Procedures for getting on and off the ladder correctly.
  • Learning how to safely work from the ladder (i.e., no shifting, climb only when facing the ladder, carry tools in one hand and keep one hand free, do not overreach, etc.).
  • Inspecting equipment immediately following each job and making any necessary repairs or replacing broken parts before the next job.

At Arrow Exterminators, a complete hazard assessment of the jobsite must be completed before any work is performed. A site-specific safety briefing and fall protection plan is also completed and reviewed. The assessment can include answering the following questions:

  • What time of day is the work being performed (i.e., could workers be fatigued)?
  • Is the ground uneven where ladders need to be placed?
  • Will homeowners or employees be coming in and out?
  • Could there be moisture on the roof due to lack of sunlight?

Spencer emphasizes that all service professionals must take the time to identify and correct potential hazards before and during the job.

SETTING UP A PROGRAM. What are the keys to establishing an effective ladder safety and fall protection training program in your company? Spencer encourages owners and managers to consider the following:

  • What is Your Responsibility to Your Team Members? Owners and managers must answer that question first. Investing the time and resources in the proper safety equipment and training is a must.
  • Lack of Training Will Cost You. Injuries have both direct (i.e., medical expenses, increased insurance premiums, indemnity payments, etc.) and indirect costs (i.e., regulatory action, the inability to secure insurance coverage, poor reputation that could hinder recruiting, etc.) that can negatively impact the bottom line.
  • Make It Simple and Sustainable. The systems to be used and training programs must be simple and sustainable. These systems and training should help not only new hires but veteran service professionals needing a refresher and be adaptable so new information can be added.
  • Empower Your Team. Empower your team to make safe decisions when they are in the field. Let them know it is OK to take a step back and take a second look at a potentially dangerous situation and make a call to management or other team members for guidance.

How do you know if your training is working? Once on a visit to an Arrow service center, Spencer noticed a stretched-out fall arrest lanyard. (Fall arrest is the form of fall protection that involves the safe stopping of a person already falling.) He inquired further and found out a service professional working on a roof avoided a 25-foot fall because he made the correct decision to use his provided system and training.

Establishing an ongoing and proactive ladder safety and fall protection program tells your employees they are valued and appreciated.

“Risk increases every foot you go up and if you do it right with consistent training and empowerment, your team members will be prepared when they are faced with a high-level risk assignment,” adds Spencer. “It’s easier to build a safe team member than repair a broken one.”