Join the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls
The construction industry is considered one of the most dangerous employment sectors for American workers, which is why the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) created a nationwide campaign to bring greater visibility to a common workplace hazard: falls from elevations. OSHA's sixth-annual National Safety Stand-Down to prevent falls in construction will take place May 6 - 10, and employers across the country are wondering how to get involved.
Holding a stand-down event does not require any special certifications or training materials and all organizations are encouraged to participate. The goal of these events is simple: To promote fall protection and ladder safety through open dialog. Employers are asked to set some time aside to discuss fall hazards with their employees and review safety tips for working at high elevations. While OSHA's event does focus on fall protection within construction environments, employers from every industry can use this opportunity to spotlight other common hazards that may pose a risk to employee health and safety. To understand why fall prevention is such an important topic, let's take a look at some eye-opening statistics.
Why Fall Prevention Matters
Falls from elevations are the leading cause of death for construction workers, accounting for 366 of the 971 construction fatalities reported in 2017, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency also estimated that slips, trips and falls were responsible for 26% of the 892,270 nonfatal work injuries that resulted in days away from work during 2016. Although the circumstances of every workplace accident are unique, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health identifies five hazards that frequently contribute to fatal and nonfatal falls:
Walking/working surfaces that are slippery, cluttered or unstable
Floor holes and wall openings that remain uncovered
Ladders that are unsafely positioned
Fall protection equipment that is misused
Ledges that are unguarded or unprotected
What makes this hazard category particularly notable is that fall-related fatalities and injuries are preventable, as most cases stem from unsafe practices and work environments that violate occupational safety guidelines and regulations. In fact, inadequate fall protection systems have dominated OSHA's list of top workplace violations since 2010, with a total of 7,270 citations served in 2018 alone. Under current OSHA safety standards, employers are required to provide working conditions that are free of known dangers, furnish workers with protective equipment and adequately train employees about all relevant job hazards. When one or more of these safeguards are absent, employees are more likely to suffer serious injuries and fatal accidents.
How Employers Support Fall Prevention
Employers utilize a range of proactive safety strategies to reduce slips, trips and falls in occupational environments, most of which are governed by OSHA guidelines. For example, employers in the construction industry are required to provide fall protection if employees work at elevations of six feet or more. This includes any tasks that involve overhead platforms, elevated work stations, scaffolding or ladders. Additionally, fall protection measures are mandatory whenever employees work above dangerous construction equipment or machinery, as even a short fall could lead to serious injuries. Some of OSHA's general requirements include:
Using railings or toe-boards to cover floor holes that workers may accidentally fall into
Installing guard rails around every elevated runway, open-sided platform or floor
Equipping workers with safety harnesses, lines, nets and handrails at high elevations
The construction industry maintains some of the most detailed safety regulations of any occupational field, as employees are frequently exposed to dangerous fall-related hazards. OSHA estimates that around 2.3 million construction workers use scaffolds regularly, which represents 65% of the industry as a whole. A recent BLS study found that 72% of workers injured in scaffold accidents attributed their fall to unstable planking or support structures, slippery flooring or being struck by a falling object.
Although federal regulations do provide specific safety measures and performance-based recommendations for preventing these types of hazards, employers are responsible for ensuring they are upheld on a day-to-day basis. Unsafe practices and low safety culture only contribute to the rising rate of workplace accidents, which is why the National Safety Stand-Down event is such a valuable initiative.
3 Tips for Promoting Fall Prevention and Awareness
Reducing fall injury and fatality rates requires the active cooperation of employers, construction workers, regulators and safety professionals. Together, these parties can reshape occupational health and safety norms, implement effective fall prevention and protection technologies, and promote work safety culture by capitalizing on opportunities for continued training and hazard education. These efforts are crucial for preventing falls from high elevations, but they can also help reduce the number of short-fall accidents.
Fatal work-related falls to a lower level increased by 26% from 2011 to 2016, with ladders standing as the most common source with 836 total incidents, according to BLS data. Ladder safety will play a significant role in this year's National Safety Stand-Down campaign, so be sure to raise the topic during safety committee meetings or training events. Employers interested in making a real impact should consider the following 3 tips for promoting fall prevention and awareness at construction sites:
Encourage workplace safety planning: Every day on a construction site brings new operational challenges and risks, which is why it's important to frequently reevaluate environmental hazards and working conditions. Employers should plan ahead and make their workers aware of any weather-related safety concerns that may impact their daily tasks. Additionally, it's crucial to develop rescue plans that align with every stage of a construction project to ensure employees can effectively respond to an on-the-job accident.
Conduct frequent equipment checks: Construction workers rely on the consistent performance of their safety equipment, which is why OSHA requires employers to complete regular inspections. However, normal wear and tear can quickly turn into dangerous vulnerabilities that put workers in harm's way. The best way to maintain a safe construction site is to conduct frequent equipment health checks at the start of each work day, especially if safety accessories are left out overnight.
Provide continuous training opportunities: Safety education is an essential resource for new hires in the construction industry, but on-the-job training shouldn't end after the first few months. Protecting the long-term health and safety of construction workers requires close attention to new practices and technologies, though it's also helpful to revisit the basics from time to time. For example, workers should always maintain three points of contact when operating a ladder, as anything less offers insufficient stability.
If you're looking to host a National Safety Stand-Down to prevent falls in construction event, FFVA Mutual has the free training resources and workplace safety tips you need. To learn more, visit FFVA Mutual's website or get in touch with an insurance agent today.