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One-Third of Fatal Construction Accidents Caused by Roof Falls

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There have been numerous reports about New York City construction workers injured or killed in roof falls, including recent stories about two employees who died because they lacked adequate fall prevention equipment at Manhattan high-rise construction project.

A quick survey of news reports about roof falls and other construction accident injuries shows that falls from roofs are frequent causes of injury and death among construction workers. This is the case not only in New York and the United States, but throughout the world.

Roof falls that cause injury and death are not limited to those involving workers constructing office towers and skyscrapers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that many falls occur when working around roof openings involving vents, skylights and chimneys.

Roofing workers are at particular risk in residential construction. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a pamphlet warning roofing workers and employers about the dangers of installing sheathing on residential buildings. It turns out that falls from roofs represent one-third of fall deaths in residential construction. OSHA recommends that sheathing be installed while the trusses are on the ground, rather than after installation.

Falls from roofs are such a serious problem in the construction industry that OSHA has mounted a campaign to try to reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by this type of fall. The program focuses on planning, prevention and training (PPT) OSHA provides materials for employers and workers in several languages.

The PPT campaign includes information for employers about planning for roofing jobs, including cost estimation. The cost of safety equipment for workers should be included in any bid documents submitted to owners and contractors. It also covers prevention, part of which is to make sure that safety equipment is appropriate for the job. Training involves not only educating workers about the use of safety equipment, but also about hazard recognition and reporting. Workers should be empowered to identify and report unsafe conditions without fear of reprisal.

According to a March 2014 press release, OSHA is planning a national stand-down to raise awareness about falls in the construction industry. It is part of the fall prevention campaign outlined above, which began in 2012.