Countless hazards exist in the construction industry, but the biggest, by far, is gravity. Falls accounted for nearly half of all construction injuries – and more than one-third of fatalities – in both 2015 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They also rank highest among construction’s “Fatal Four” (the four leading causes of death among workers).
In an effort to reduce these preventable deaths, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has partnered with multiple organizations to hold an annual safety initiative focusing on fall prevention. This year’s campaign – the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction – will take place May 7th through 12th. Construction contractors and workers nationwide are encouraged to participate.
Goals of the Campaign
The campaign aims to raise awareness of fall hazards with the ultimate goal of reducing fatal falls. Its key messages include the following:
- Falls are preventable.
- Contractors and employees should work together to make fall prevention a priority.
- Contractors are responsible for providing their workers with the right safety equipment for working at heights.
- Contractors should provide workers with periodic training to better understand fall hazards and safety strategies.
By addressing falls specifically, the hope is to instill strong safety priorities that will remain in force throughout the year.
How Falls Happen
The first step toward preventing falls is to understand how they happen. The vast majority involve roofs, scaffolding and ladders. In fact, one-third of all fatal falls are from roofs, and another quarter are from ladders, according to the BLS.
What contributes to these accidents? Often, multiple factors are at play, including:
- Inadequate fall protection, whether personal fall arrest systems, guardrails, handrails, toeboards or other measures required for the specific conditions
- Insufficient training
- Improper setup of ladders or scaffolds
- Improper use of protective gear
- Unmarked holes, gaps, elevator shafts or drop-offs
- Slippery surfaces
- Bad weather conditions
The deadliest falls occur in multistory sites. However, serious injuries or deaths can happen even from relatively short distances. Every situation requires careful consideration to provide the most effective means of fall protection.
Who is Most at Risk?
Virtually all types of construction work involve fall hazards. Whether you work on ladders or scaffolding, near holes or drop-offs, on lifts or on the ground, chances are you’ll encounter fall risks at some point on the job.
Of course, some occupations are riskier than others. Those who regularly perform work at great heights (such as roofers, ironworkers and sheet-metal workers) face fall perils day in and day out. Also at risk are employees of smaller construction companies. More than half of all construction deaths involve companies with 10 or fewer employees, even though companies that size employ less than 30 percent of workers in the industry, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training. This troubling statistic suggests that fewer resources may contribute to less training, insufficient fall protection and a lack of safety-oriented work culture.
A lesser-known risk factor is hearing loss, which is associated with threefold higher rates of falls, according to one study. Immigrants and Spanish-speaking workers also have disproportionately high rates of falls. Language barriers and gaps in training may account for this disparity.
How Contractors and Workers can Prepare
Although the campaign is still more than a month away, contractors can start planning now for how to participate. NIOSH recommends setting aside time – even if it’s only 15 minutes – to discuss issues such as:
- Common causes of falls
- Hazards to look out for
- Proper use of fall-prevention equipment
- How to improve existing safety measures
- How to report safety concerns
Employers can also use the campaign as an opportunity to examine whether additional safety training is needed.
NIOSH has provided numerous resources – including statistics, videos, discussion points and infographics – to help employers make an impact. The campaign also offers materials for Spanish-speaking workers, an important audience that makes up roughly 30 percent of the construction workforce.
Advocacy for Construction Workers and their Families
After a fall accident – whether your own or that of a loved one – consider seeking guidance on your legal options. At Block O’Toole & Murphy in New York City, we have represented numerous construction workers and their families following tragic falls. Our outstanding results – totaling more than $1 billion – speak to the high level of dedication we will bring to your case. These results include:
- A $12 million settlement on behalf of a union tunnel worker who fell 40 feet into a ventilation shaft while working on a subway extension project
- A $10.875 million settlement on behalf of a worker who fell off a rooftop, resulting in significant injuries
- A $7.4 million settlement for a sheet metal worker who fell off a beam while working on a renovation project