Falls from Heights

A new year has arrived and the statistics for fall related deaths in the construction industry remain grim. According to preliminary data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS), falls are again the number one killer of construction workers, accounting for approximately one-third of construction fatalities.

Driven by the following statistics from the BLS, OSHA is continuing its campaign against fall injuries throughout 2013.

  • On average, one construction worker falls to his or her death every workday.
  • More than 10,000 construction workers were hurt and another 251 killed at work in 2011 after falling from a height.
  • Falls from heights cause the second-highest rate of nonfatal injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work.
  • Approximately one in four fall fatalities occurred from a fall height of 10 feet or less.
  • Failure to comply with the duty to have fall protection was the most frequently cited OSHA violation in 2012.
  • Failure to comply with the duty to have fall protection incurred the highest penalties in 2012.

The Federal OSHA emphasis program continues into 2013 with three simple steps to prevent falls:

  1. PLAN
  3. TRAIN

PLAN ahead to get the job done safely 

When working from heights, such as ladders, scaffolds, and roofs, employers must plan projects to ensure that the job is completed safely. Employers must determine how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved, and what safety equipment may be needed to complete each task before work begins.

When estimating the cost of a job, employers should include safety equipment and plan to have all the necessary equipment and tools available at the construction site. For example, when conducting a roofing job, the employer should consider all of the potential fall hazards, such as holes or skylights and leading edges. Based on its review, the employer should then plan and select fall protection suitable to the work, such as personal fall arrest systems (PFAS). 

The most commonly omitted section of the planning phase is to plan for rescue. Any employee saved by a fall arrest system must be rescued promptly. The rescue plan should identify methods for suspended employee rescue.

Reach out to your fall protection equipment vendors if you are performing non-routine work as they can assist in finding an effective, cost-friendly solution.

PROVIDE the right equipment 

Employees who work above lower levels are at risk for serious injury or death if they should fall. To protect these workers, employers must provide fall protection and the appropriate equipment for the job, including the right kinds of ladders, scaffolds, and safety gear. Different ladders and scaffolds are appropriate for different jobs. Always provide workers with the right equipment to get the job done safely.

If workers use PFAS, make sure they fit, are worn properly, and are regularly inspected along with all other components of the fall protection system. When evaluating the equipment you use, keep the fall distances in mind and remember that shock absorbers can stretch up to 42 inches during deceleration.

TRAIN everyone to use the equipment safely 

Falls can be prevented when workers understand proper set-up and safe use of equipment. Employers must train workers in hazard recognition and in the care and safe use of ladders, scaffolds, lifts, fall protection systems and other equipment used on the job.

Retractable lanyards aren't new but are finding their way onto an increasing number of jobsites due to ease of use and range of effective applications. When a retractable lanyard is used, appropriate training must cover swing hazards, appropriate anchorage, and special inspection procedures that may be required by the manufacturer.

Employers must use effective training and compliment it with toolbox talks or other communication to train workers on safe practices to avoid falls in construction.

Falls from ladders, lifts, scaffolds and roofs can be prevented and lives can be saved through three simple steps: Plan, Provide and Train.