Unfortunately, falls are all too common in construction. Some of the most ordinary tasks and equipment invite opportunities. Of the 617 fatal falls in 2009, over one-third involved roofs or ladders. However, foresight and simple-to-implement safety measures can reduce these risks.

Ladders and Scaffolding

Ladders and scaffolding are commonplace at construction sites, but that does not mean that they are safe. Choosing the appropriate ladder – step, straight or extension – and securing it so that it does not slide or tip backwards can be the difference between getting the job done safely or dying from a fall.

Fall Protection Basics

Inspect the Worksite Regularly

Check Equipment

Erect Guardrails and Cover Holes

Tie Off

Maintain Housekeeping

Scaffolding can also be deadly unless personal fall-arrest systems or guardrail systems are in place. OSHA requires such systems for any scaffold ten feet or more above a lower level. Additionally, fall protection determined by a competent person must be provided for workers erecting or dismantling supported scaffolds. According to OSHA, effective scaffold safety would annually prevent 4,500 injuries and 50 deaths, saving employers $90 million in lost workdays.

Edges and Holes

The likelihood of fall injuries and deaths increases when working at heights. Any leading edge – a walking or working surface that is elevated and unprotected – is a fall hazard. OSHA standard 1926.501 requires personal fall-arrest systems, guardrails or safety nets for work performed six feet or more above a lower level.

Holes and openings can lead to fall-through incidents: falling through an existing opening in a floor or roof, falling through openings created for stairs, elevators and skylights and falling through skylight fixtures. A guardrail or personal fall-arrest system that employs a full body harness, a self-retracting lanyard and a proper anchor point reduces one’s fall-through risk.

Trips and Slips

When complicated by a slip or trip and a resulting fall, the most routine construction tasks can turn into nightmares. Most slips are caused by wet or oily surfaces, spills, loose mats, walking surfaces with varying degrees of traction and inappropriate footwear. Common causes of trips include inadequate lighting, poor housekeeping, obstructed views (for instance, while carrying a large object), uncovered cords and cables and uneven walking surfaces.

Good housekeeping prevents many slips and trips. Assigning responsibilities helps ensure safe workplaces. At union sites, this is usually the Laborers’ jurisdiction. When a site is clean, neat and spill-free, the likelihood of slips, trips and falls is significantly diminished.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]