New York Fall Prevention Guide for Construction Workers

Falls are the single deadliest hazard in the construction industry. They account for more than one-third of all worker fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On average, more than 300 construction workers across the country lose their lives every year because of falls. Thousands more suffer debilitating injuries that drastically change the course of their lives.

These accidents are all the more tragic because they're entirely preventable. Federal safety regulations require effective fall protection measures for each type of fall hazard. Depending on the worksite – and the height, hazard and equipment involved – these measures range from guardrails and toeboards to personal fall arrest systems (body harnesses). Contractors must provide both the right protection and the right training for their workers to take advantage of these safety measures.

What Contributes to Fall Accidents?

The biggest culprit in fall accidents is failure to implement the right safety measures. Inadequate fall protection is the most frequently issued safety citation in the construction industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Many of these shortcomings involve ladders and scaffolding. In fact, nearly 40 percent of all construction falls are from these two critical pieces of equipment, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training. Another third involve falls from roofs.

You don't have to fall from significant heights to suffer serious injuries. More than 50 percent of fatal falls in construction are from heights of 20 feet or less, and 16 percent are from 10 feet or less.

While it's not always possible to pinpoint a single cause of each accident, in many cases, some of the fault rests on the employer, contractor or site manager. An investigation may reveal safety violations such as:

  • Failure to provide personal fall arrest systems for perilous work
  • Problems with the setup and structure of scaffolding
  • Old or defective ladders that should never have been made available to workers
  • Lack of a safe means of access for scaffolding or other elevated workplaces
  • Unguarded holes, gaps or open shafts
  • Failure to inspect scaffolding, particularly after inclement weather or changes in site conditions
  • Failure to train workers on fall hazards (including how to properly use fall protection equipment)

Sadly, by the time these issues come to light, it's often too late, and someone has already been injured or killed.

How to Prevent These Accidents

Every worksite has its own unique set of fall hazards. Addressing them requires a site-specific approach. Safe practices include:

  • Providing workers with personal fall arrest systems (body harnesses) that fit properly
  • Choosing the right ladder for the job and using it in a safe manner
  • Inspecting ladders, scaffolding, safety nets and harnesses to ensure they aren't worn or damaged
  • Cleaning up spills and slippery surfaces promptly
  • Ensuring that all floor holes, gaps and open skylights are clearly guarded, covered or blocked off
  • Equipping guardrail systems with toeboards and warning lines
  • Installing control line systems to prevents falls from the edges of floors and roofs
  • Keeping walkways clear of tripping hazards
  • Installing personnel and debris nets beneath high-risk areas
  • Never taking shortcuts when it comes to safety

One of the most important prevention measures is training. Federal, state and local laws all require periodic training on fall hazards, and in a language you understand.

Making Fall Prevention a Priority

Construction companies that make fall prevention a priority typically have fewer accidents. Small companies and self-employed workers have the highest rates of falls, which means these workers must be even more vigilant about looking out for themselves.

As a construction worker, you have the right to a safe workplace – which means access to fall protection measures and safety training required by law. Unfortunately, though, not all employers play by the rules. You can reduce your chances of becoming a fall victim by being aware of the dangers, steering clear of risky situations and reporting all safety concerns.

What to do After a Fall Accident

When fall prevention measures are absent or fail, and a tragic accident occurs, we are here to help. At Block O'Toole & Murphy, our lawyers understand the nuances of construction safety regulations. We have a wealth of experience standing up for workers from all walks of life, both union and nonunion. Our attorneys have secured hundreds of millions of dollars in construction verdicts and settlements for injured workers. These success stories include:

If you have been involved in a fall accident or lost a loved one, we invite you to contact our office at 212-736-5300 for a free consultation.