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Step Ladder Failure Analysis: A Comparison of Analytical Methods

[+] Author Affiliations
Matthew T. Kenner, Erick H. Knox, Michael P. Van Bree, John A. Wilkinson

Engineering Systems, Inc., Aurora, IL

Michael E. Stevenson

Engineering Systems, Inc., Norcross, GA

Paper No. IMECE2011-65416, pp. 397-405; 9 pages
  • ASME 2011 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Volume 9: Transportation Systems; Safety Engineering, Risk Analysis and Reliability Methods; Applied Stochastic Optimization, Uncertainty and Probability
  • Denver, Colorado, USA, November 11–17, 2011
  • Conference Sponsors: ASME
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5495-2
  • Copyright © 2011 by ASME


When a user falls from a step ladder, the accident can be accompanied by damage to the ladder. A common area of damage is in the vicinity of the connections between the front side rails and the lowermost step. When determining the cause of a fall, it is important to understand how this damage occurs and whether it may be causal to the accident or a result of the accident. Commonly, engineers investigating such accidents have relied on three methods of structural analysis: classic analytical methods (so-called “hand calculations”), computational methods (finite element analysis) and laboratory testing. These three methods each have strengths and weaknesses that affect how the results should be used and interpreted by the investigating engineer. Factors such as the assumptions and simplifications used as input to an analysis, the type and amount of results available as output and cost are examined. These issues are discussed in the frame work of a case study wherein all three methods are applied to the analysis of a step ladder damaged in the field. The results show that, while step ladders may, at first, appear to be relatively simple structures they are, in fact, quite complex. As a consequence, it becomes very important to understand the analysis technique being used and its inherent limitations. Without consideration of these factors, the investigating engineer can be drawn to an incorrect understanding of the damage and its cause. This, in turn, may lead to an erroneous determination of the cause of the accident.

Copyright © 2011 by ASME



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