Preventing Construction Falls

by Dr. David Michaels on July 19, 2012 · 7 comments

OSHA Fall Prevention Campaign Ad

Falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs can be prevented.

As the country continues its economic recovery and construction businesses enter the peak season, the resulting flurry of projects should also remind us that construction is the deadliest industry in the country. A worker may be stepping onto a ladder, scaffold or roof right now, and without the right planning, equipment and training, that worker may be putting his or her life at risk.  For this reason, falls are the deadliest hazard in the construction industry.

Too many workers continue to plummet from a towering scaffold, a roof or precarious ladders due to a lack of supervision or provision of safeguards.  The numbers are glaring: in 2010, more than 250 workers lost their lives in falls on construction sites, while more than 10,000 were seriously injured. At the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, we have answered the call to prevent any more needless deaths with our nationwide education and outreach campaign to prevent falls in the construction industry.  It’s my firm conviction that each and every one of these falls is preventable.

And the costs of falls in the construction industry are alarming. Falls from heights cause not only physical and emotional hardships for workers and their families, but can each cost well over $100,000 in lost wages and medical costs.

Working from heights is inherently dangerous, but protecting workers from falls is feasible and effective. OSHA’s fall prevention campaign is spreading awareness about how to prevent construction falls. There are three simple steps that workers and employers can take:

  • Plan ahead to get the job done safely.
  • Provide the right equipment.
  • Train everyone to use the equipment safely.

OSHA has created a new fall prevention Web site, with resources in English and Spanish that include a poster, fact sheet and a webpage on construction hazards including fall prevention that will give you the tools you need to ensure that any construction work at heights is done safely. You can also find OSHA’s constructions standards, where you can learn about OSHA required protections for workers in various construction-related jobs.

By sharing this life-saving information, we can save lives. We can make real the promise that all workers deserve to come home safely at the end of a shift.

Dr. David Michaels is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rick Damato July 20, 2012 at 8:30 am

Dr. Michaels,

Thank you for your passionate and deliberate assault on death and injuries from falls in construction. I agree that “zero” is the number of acceptable fatalities in the course of building and retrofitting our nations homes, buildings, and infrastructure.

I have been involved in the roofing industry since 1974 and my present capacity is in distribution of roofing products and as an industry observer/freelance writer for the trade publication Roofing Contractor.

I would like to see OSHA work more closely with industry groups to work toward a solution to this problem. In particular, I wonder what OSHA is doing to lobby the design community to build better safety practices into the construction process from the drawing board forward. For instance, passive fall protection systems are superior to personal fall restraint systems on a number of levels. But there are no building codes requiring them to be baked into the construction process. I am writing, most particularly, about single-family home construction. Fall protection is generally well considered in the design and construction process of commercial, institutional, and industrial spaces.

While it may take generations for this kind of change to take hold, would that not be a decent legacy for our generation to push forward?

I have worked in the roofing industry since 1974 and the issue of fall protection has been, in one fashion or another, front of mind for me since day one. I believe the industry does considerably better protecting workers from falls than it did 38 years ago. But if it were ‘job one’ for everyone working in the field (beginning with the design community) for all that time, we would be much closer to zero than we are today.

Regards,
Rick Damato

2 Munro's Safety Apparel July 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm

The new fall prevention Web site is such a wonderful resource! Although all organizations should have the proper training materials and should ensure that all employees are properly trained on workplace safety issues, the fact is, many do not do so on a consistent basis. Thank you OSHA for providing resources that both employers and employees in the construction field can reference when needed.

3 OSHA Construction Training July 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Perhaps it would be of benefit if politics were taken out of the OSHA regulatory process. There have been so many changes to the directives for fall prootection in construction (see http://www.oshatraining.com/osha-construction-industry-training-requirements.php) that no one can stay straight on what OSHA training requirements they must meet.

4 Field ID Inspection Software July 27, 2012 at 11:12 am

Falls from scaffolding and other heights in the construction industry are very alarming. We love your assertion that “protecting workers from falls is feasible and effective.” It’s something we try to remind our readers about often.

5 sovereign man July 31, 2012 at 9:00 am

I’m perplexed by the contention that this will “prevent” falls. Words on paper do nothing but impose false limitations on freedom. You have not conferred on myself or anyone else the bodily capacity to not fall simply by producing posters at taxpayer expense [aside: You should have to justify your work by competing in the market.] Each of us is born with Natural Rights that do not depend on or from government to exist. Of those rights, the freedom to contract is significant. I am at LIBERTY to contract with my employer without DOL or OSHA sticking its patrician nose into that business. You were not at the negotiating table when that contract was formed, so I don’t care what you have to say about its terms. Wake up Americans, because liberty is lost when we defer to unelected bureaucrats our responsibilities to safeguard our rights and the liberties to enjoy them.

6 John H. July 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I am in the safety training business and I can’t tell you how difficult it is to get the companies I work with to live and breathe the safety culture.  As you know an often cited OSHA offense is falling from heights.    However, I think the article here will be my new source. I plan on sharing this information with all of my clients on a go forward basis.  We need to keep safety of all kinds on the “front of mind” of all employers or it will not become part of their culture. Instilling a culture of safety amongst employers is a great way to reduce on the job injuries.

7 david ramirez February 10, 2014 at 9:57 am

I wish these initiatives were replicated in my country (Peru) where deficiency in the construction industry is beyond control. And I`m not only talking only about falls or other risks inherent to lack of prevention.

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