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Fatal Falls Are at an All-Time High, and Other Workplace Fatality Trends

An all-time high 887 American workers were killed in fatal falls in 2017, according to a new report from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. This record number of on-the-job fatalities represents a 4.48% increase from the 849 fatal falls recorded in 2016.

Further examination of the data reveals numerous occupations which are at increased danger of being killed in a falling accident. The following occupations were found to have fatal work injury rates at least 5 times than national average, and all regularly deal with heights in their line of work:

  • Roofers (48.6 fatal work injury rate per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers)
  • Structural iron and steel workers (33.4 per 100,000)
  • Electrical power-line installers and repairers (18.7 per 100,000)

Another job type at high risk of suffering a fatal fall is construction workers. Construction trades workers suffered 747 on-the-job fatalities in 2017, up 1.5% from 2016, and the second most fatalities of any occupation besides motor vehicle operators. For construction workers nationwide, falls to lower levels were the most common form of fatal injury. In New York alone, 34 construction workers were killed in fatal falls, a 17% increase from 2016 and 50% of all construction workers killed on the job across the city and state.

Falls Are Dangerous Regardless of Height

Falling accidents is a broad category. 887 American workers died in fatal falls, but only 713 involved a fall to a lower level, rather than slipping or tripping and falling on the same level, or deliberately jumping.

The height of the fatal fall was specified in 614 cases. Of these 614 fatalities, 48 percent of the victims fell 15 feet or less. On one hand, it's fair to suggest that this number is so high because employees are more likely to be working at these heights. On the other hand, this statistic reveals that safety managers, employers and employees cannot underestimate the potential danger of shorter-distance falls.

In contrast, 17% of fatal falls occurred from heights over 30 feet. Taken altogether, the data shows that safety professionals and workplace managers need to provide regular instruction and proper fall protection to employees to prevent falling accidents, no matter how seemingly-insignificant the height of the drop is.

Improving Fall Protection Safety in 2019

To encourage better safety training, the Sixth Annual National Safety Stand-Down is coming up on May 6-10 and serves as a "week-long outreach event encouraging industry employers" to make it a point to discuss fall hazards and fall protection methods.

One organization involved in this event is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is responsible for helping create safer workplaces, and they offer a fall protection training guide for this very purpose. The guide offers safety talks and other materials so that managers and employers can give short, focused presentations to employees about these three critical fall prevention topics:

  • Ladder Safety, including how to inspect and use them
  • Scaffolding Safety, including how to safely design them
  • Roofing Work Safety, including the necessary parts of a Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS)

Although these three short talks cannot be expected to cover all of the information and best practices necessary to put an end to fatal falls, they do offer an opportunity to begin a dialogue between workers and employers about how they can work together to create safer workplaces.

Creating Safer Workplaces Starts at the Top

Fatal falls are a symptom of a larger problem. The hazards which lead to a worker being killed in a work fall have been well-known for many years. All of the safety equipment, training guides, and outreach programs won't make any difference, however, until employers and safety managers make a real effort to ensure that workers have a full understanding of how to do their jobs safely.

This means not just giving information, but asking questions and encouraging participation. It means giving everyone a chance to voice their concerns about workplace safety, and not dismissing their concerns as trivial or unimportant. And it means committing to safety every day, every shift, with every employee, so that American workers don't have to fear losing their lives as they try to earn their paycheck.

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