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Preventing Construction Falls with the National Safety Stand-Down

Falls are the number one killer of construction workers. Although this is well-understood in the industry, the number of fatal construction site falls is trending upwards, and the number of fatal work falls for all American workers reached an all-time high in 2017. The 6th annual National Safety Stand-Down aims to change that.

The Stand-Down, which takes place the week of May 6-10, is meant to briefly pause work so that critical safety conversations about fall hazards, safety and prevention can take place. Although the Stand-Down began in the construction industry, fall hazards exist in many workplaces, and participation in the event has been rising. In 2015 and 2016, for example, the United States Air Force was the largest participant in the National Safety Stand-Down.

The National Safety Stand-Down is meant to reduce fatal falls and has core messages that are closely related:

  • Falls are preventable
  • Contractors and workers should plan together to make fall prevention a top priority on every job
  • Contractors need to provide proper fall safety equipment for workers to use
  • Contractors need to train workers so they can properly use appropriate safety equipment

Hopefully, throughout the week-long Stand-Down, employers and construction workers can collaborate to make these goals a reality, and the workplace safer for everybody.

The Most Common Fall Hazards

Roughly two out of every three fatal construction falls happens from a roof, ladder, or scaffold, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). For construction sites that have not recently reviewed site safety practices, these three areas may be a good starting point - though the conversation should ultimately cover all of the fall hazards on a specific jobsite.

Roof work is known to be particularly dangerous. 91 roofers died in 2017, the fourth-highest fatal work injury rate of any civilian job, according to the most recent fatal occupational injury report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Common roof work hazards include:

  • Improper use or total lack of personal fall arrest systems (PFAS)
  • Inclement weather such as rain, ice or high winds
  • Skylights and other roof openings that lack a guardrail system

Scaffolding presents a unique danger in part due to the number of different scaffold types there are. OSHA estimates that more than 2 million construction workers use scaffolding every year, and that preventing scaffold accidents would save more than 60 lives every year. Workers should be trained to identify scaffolding dangers such as:

  • Collapses caused by improper scaffold construction and overloading
  • Lack of proper guardrail systems
  • Lack of access points such as ladder (never climb crossbracing as a means of access)

Ladders are not equipment that experienced workers might think of as dangerous, but an OSHA report indicates that 81% of fall injuries among construction workers involve a ladder in some way. Employers need to train workers to work carefully from ladders and avoid common hazards like:

  • Trying to use a ladder that is too short for the job (never use the top rung of a ladder)
  • Placing the ladder on uneven ground or at an improper angle
  • Climbing with items in your hands or without maintaining three points of contact

These are not all of the fall hazards on a construction site. Other common hazards include window openings, cranes and aerial lifts. Proper fall protection safety requires reviewing all of the tasks on a work site and planning to deal with those specific and unique hazards before they can cause an accident. The goal of the National Safety Stand-Down is to inspire this simple but potentially life-saving process to take place.

Free Fall Prevention Training Materials

One of the core messages of the Stand-Down is that falls are preventable events, if employers are willing to set aside a small amount of time to provide workers with basic safety training. One free resource to aid this process are Toolbox Talks, very short training materials designed to address a wide variety of construction site hazards such as:

  • Aerial lift safety
  • Crane work
  • Falls from heavy equipment
  • Guardrail systems
  • Ladder falls
  • Roof falls
  • Step ladders

This is not the only free training resource available. OSHA offers in-depth pamphlets which cover general fall prevention, as well as specific fall hazards. It doesn't cost anything to familiarize workers with these safety materials. It only requires a willingness to make safety a priority.

If you don't feel you've been properly trained to avoid fall accidents on your construction site, the National Stand-Down is an opportunity to speak up about it. Lives could depend on it.

Which Workers are Most at Risk of Falling?

Fall hazards affect every worker at a construction site, but it should be noted that certain groups face statistically higher risks of suffering a fall accident. These types of workers have been found to suffer fatal work accidents at higher-than-average rates:

  • Roofers
  • Structural iron and steel workers
  • Electrical power-line workers
  • Hispanic and Latino construction workers. Language barriers are certainly a contributing factor to this disturbing trend. Not every construction site is capable of delivering safety instructions in fluent Spanish. If you commit to hiring workers who speak a certain language, then there should be a similar resolve to provide them with a capable supervisor who is able to communicate with them.

Ultimately, there is no excuse to deprive workers who are not fluent in English of critical safety training that they can understand and implement. The Toolbox Talks, for example, are available in both English and Spanish. OSHA also offers fall prevention sheets in both Polish and Russian. There are other factors which tend to expose Hispanic, Latino, and other non-English speaking construction workers to greater work-related perils. These troubling facts need to be addressed in a meaningful way.

Another group of workers who face greater risk of work falls are those with hearing problems. While the reasons for this link might be complicated, the conclusion is not: construction workers deserve fall prevention training, no matter who they are. The National Stand-Down is an opportunity for an active conversation about safety to take place, so that all employees can receive the training necessary to work safely and avoid fall accidents.

When Fall Safety is Not a Priority

Construction falls are devastating events that can cause workers to suffer serious or even fatal injuries. When fall protection safety is not a concern and workers suffer fall accidents, sometimes a lawsuit is necessary to compensate the victim and their family for the damages suffered. The construction accident attorneys of Block O'Toole & Murphy have successfully litigated numerous construction site falls such as:

If you or a loved one were injured in a construction site fall caused by a lack of safety training or equipment, call 212-736-5300 for a free legal consultation.

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