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Published: Spring, 2006; Vol 8, Num 2

Preventing Falls in Construction

Falls are the number one killer in construction, and each year the number keeps rising.

In the United States, 1224 construction workers were killed on the job in 2004. More than a third (441 or 36 percent) were killed in falls. Of these, 40 percent (178) fell off a roof and 30.5 percent (133) fell from ladders. In these two categories, fatalities increased almost 29 percent. Most of the other deadly falls were from scaffolds and lifts. Every year, falls also produce a large number of crippling injuries.

The situation is even worse in Canada where half of all construction fatalities are fall-related. “Due to the prevalence and rising number of fall fatalities, construction managers, safety officers, supervisors and workers should give more priority to fall protection in their safety programs, toolbox talks and everyday safety planning and consideration,” says Noel C. Borck, Impartial Secretary of the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee, Inc. and LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman.

OSHA has a general industry fall protection standard and a resource webpage devoted to fall protection in construction. Generally, the standard requires an employer to provide one of three kinds of fall protection – guardrail, safety net or personal fall arrest system – for every worker exposed to a possible fall of six or more feet. By way of exception, fall protection is required on scaffolds ten feet or taller, and roofers must have warning lines.

Ladder safety recently has been addressed through a new video, Don’t Fall for It (see review this issue), and four fall protection tip sheets from the Center to Protect Workers Rights (CPWR). The tip sheets, available in English and Spanish, cover the topics of “Protect Yourself from Fatal or Crippling Falls,” “Choosing and Inspecting Ladders,” “Setting Up Portable Ladders” and “Climbing Ladders Safely.”

Recognizing that most fall fatalities occur on non-union, residential sites, the LHSFNA recently completed two Photo Enforcement Safety Tip (PEST) sheets on falls and scaffolds (as well as a third on trenches) that provide visual examples of unsafe conditions and encourage workers and employers to call OSHA inspectors when they notice such conditions on worksites in their areas. The Fund also publishes health alerts on Falls from Height and Fall Protection in Construction.

“Both Laborers and their employers have responsibilities when it comes to fall protection,” says Borck. “To reverse this rising trend, everyone must take greater precautions.”

The Construction Roundtable – unions, employer associations, contractors, insurers and manufacturers – of OSHA’s Alliance Program developed the following fall protection guidelines:

Employers

  1. Develop a written fall protection plan.
  2. Identify potential fall hazards prior to each project and during daily walk-arounds. Pay attention to hazards associated with routine and non-routine tasks.
  3. Eliminate the need for fall protection where possible by rescheduling the task, isolating the task or changing the task.
  4. Ensure that fall protection equipment is appropriate to the task, in good condition and used properly.
  5. Conduct general fall prevention training on a regular basis.
  6. Train workers on the specific fall hazards identified and on the required personal protective equipment.
  7. Conduct regular inspections of fall protection equipment in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and OSHA’ requirements.
  8. Emphasize fall hazards unique to the site, such as open floor holes or shafts, riser penetrations and skylights.
  9. Team up with other construction employers and employees to identify best practices and share fall prevention solutions.
  10. Get more information from OSHA: www.osha.gov or 800-321-OSHA.

Employees

  1. Understand your company’s written fall prevention plan.
  2. Attend and participate in fall prevention training.
  3. Use fall protection equipment if required for the job. Be sure the equipment is right for the task, fits properly and is in good condition.
  4. Inspect fall protection equipment and devices before each use.
  5. Make sure that floor holes, open shafts and riser penetrations are protected by sturdy guardrails or covers.
  6. Get specialized training before working on scaffolds, lifts or ladders.
  7. When using scaffolds, make sure there is proper access, full planking, stable footing and guardrailing.
  8. Keep your feet firmly on the platform on a boom lift and tie-off at all times.
  9. Chose the correct ladder for the task, read the instructions and be sure that the ladder is in good condition. Check for surrounding hazards, stable footing and the proper angle.
  10. Identify skylights and make sure they are properly protected.
  11. Contact your supervisor if you see fall hazards or have any questions about fall prevention. Do not work until unsafe conditions have been corrected.
  12. Get more information from OSHA: www.osha.gov or call 800-321-OSHA.