Preventing Falls in Construction

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), along with the National Safety Council and other similar NGOs, are among the entities encouraging construction employers to stop work to discuss fall hazards and prevention with their workers during the fifth annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, the week of May 7.

Falls are the leading cause of death among construction workers, according to NIOSH; and account for fully one-third of construction industry fatalities. S­ince the campaign began, according to OSHA, millions of construction workers have participated in stand-downs. Individual events have taken place in all 50 states and internationally. Last year (2017) virtually half (49 percent) of U.S. companies which held these stand-down events were small construction firms with less than 25 employees.

A new CPWR cumulative database encompassing the years 1982-2015 revealed that falls accounted for nearly half (42 percent) of all construction worker deaths, and more than half of the workers killed in a fall did not have fall protection safety equipment. Other information found in the CPWR study showed that:

  • One-third of all fatal falls were from 30 feet or higher.
  • 20 percent of all recorded fall-related deaths occurred to victims who had been on the job for two months or less.

The Meaning Behind Fatal Fall Statistics

OSHA regulations require employers to provide appropriate safety equipment and other necessary materials to prevent accidental falls. A general industry standard is to provide fall protection equipment (harnesses/lanyards, etc.) every four feet of elevation. In shipyards, fall protection must be provided at five-foot elevations. On construction sites, the minimum required distance between fall protection elevations is six feet; and yet, in some cases, fall protection on scaffolding has minimum distances of 10 feet, a shortcoming that all of the above government agencies and NGOs are working to remedy.

In addition to providing safety equipment to their workers, contractors and other construction employers are also required to guard holes in the floor to protect workers from inadvertently walking into or falling through them.  Preventative measures include installing railings, floor hole covers, or toe-boards. Guardrails and toe-boards must also be installed around runways, elevated open-sided platforms, elevated floors, and dangerous machines or equipment.

Contractors must also keep floors clean and dry, train workers about job hazards in languages they understand, and provide personal fall protection equipment at no cost to workers.

However, it’s a commonly known fact that when initially estimating the cost of a job, some employers fail to fully account for all hazards, including holes and edges. Some also fail to include adequate fall protection in their budgets. Sometimes workers are not adequately trained in using protective equipment, and it’s these workers who don’t understand the appropriate use of fall protection equipment who are at the greatest risk of suffering a serious or fatal fall injury at their construction job site.

Clearly, there is a great need for programs such as the annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction.

If you’ve been injured by a fall from an elevated height at your job, the professionals at Kaplan Lawyers PC are available to answer your legal questions, including those having to do with workers’ compensation and additional civil liability for your injuries. Contact us to arrange a free case evaluation.