Falling is failing. We need to succeed. Preventing these tragedies must be a priority. These suggestions could strengthen current practice and procedures:

Falls Top Priority for NORA Research

The LHSFNA worked with NIOSH to develop this five-point agenda for construction safety research:

  1. Develop technical solutions for fall prevention challenges such as tie-off anchors for residential roof workers.
  2. Increase implementation of effective fall prevention measures especially among small and medium-size companies.
  3. Make ladder safety an industry-wide target for improvement.
  4. Broaden use of designed-for- safety fall prevention systems.
  5. Conduct a national media campaign to raise awareness of fall hazards and generate fall prevention activity.
  • Eliminate the Hazard – Sixteen percent of fatal falls are from ladders. When possible, switch to aerial lifts, stair towers or rolling ladders (rolling stairs) that can be locked in place.
  • Design It Out – Design structures with built-in holes so guardrails are easier to install. Design stronger skylights so workers cannot fall through.
  • Cracking Down – When engineering controls are insufficient for fall prevention, OSHA requires fall protection. However, the requirement is often ignored.  An effective targeting system is needed to find offenders, and the public can help by emailing OSHA when fall hazards are observed. Also, photos of hazardous conditions can be uploaded to the Construction Safety Hazard Photo Bulletin Board.
  • Checking It Twice – Routinely inspect jobsites. Correct hazards like open holes immediately. The LHSFNA’s “Find It, Fix It” packet can help pinpoint hazards. Handheld, electronic audit tools like WVU’s Fall-Safe program are also useful.
  • Innovative Fall Protection – Some fall protection situations can be challenging, but safety-conscious employers often find solutions. Share ideas.
  • Soft Landings – In the United Kingdom (UK), air cushions provide soft landings. Easily inflated with compressed air pumps, these cushions can be situated just below roofs or scaffolds. Bring this technology to the U.S. and Canada.
  • Faulty Equipment – In the UK, faulty ladders can be exchanged under a government subsidized program. Other countries could adopt such programs.
  • The Power of Stories – Sometimes workers take risks like unhooking fall protection to move to a new location or stepping outside a barrier to accomplish a task. Real stories of workers who took chances and paid dearly can encourage others not to do the same.
  • The Public Needs to Know – Create awareness through a public health-style campaign and make lack of fall prevention unacceptable.

[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division Director.]