Addressing fall protection for the construction industry
Falls remain the leading cause of death in construction1, an industry that remains one of the most dangerous in the United States. Construction falls currently account for more than a third of all deaths in the industry2. More than 300 workers fall to their deaths each year3 while performing their daily job functions, and this figure has remained fairly consistent over the past 10 years.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets criteria for when fall protection is needed at a worksite. Generally, protection is required whenever a worker is at heights 6 feet or more above a lower level, or in situations that could involve falling through holes, or working around dangerous equipment.
Fall protection can take several forms, depending on the specific needs of the worksite and safety requirements of workers. Guardrail systems, for instance, should be installed where there is a leading edge 6 feet or more above a lower level. Safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems and positioning device systems can also be used to prevent injuries or fatalities.
The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) recently released results from a survey highlighting the underlying causes of falls. This survey interviewed workers who experienced, witnessed, or investigated a workplace fall.
Several key findings from the survey show lack of:
- Adequate planning
- Clearly communicated company fall protection policies
- Fall rescue training all playing significant roles in falls
As the survey found, fatalities can occur with falls from a wide range of heights – from less than 6 feet (5.3% of observed fatalities) to more significant heights over 40 feet (31.6% of observed fatalities). Most falls occurred at heights between 11-20 feet (31.6%) or over 20 feet (33.3%).
While heights indicated that fall protections should have been in place, nearly half of the survey’s respondents (48.8%) said that no protections were being used at the time of falls. When fall protections were being used, nearly a third (31.3%) were personal fall arrest systems and 16.1% of respondents said guardrails were in place.4
Also of note, the study found that a large majority of workers who fell (81.5%) were not new to the workforce.
What can be done
Increased focus, education and training are needed to combat fall injuries and fatalities in the construction industry.
Nationwide has developed an interactive Fall Protection Guide to help address underlying causes and to assist our members with reducing falls in the workplace. This resource is designed to walk through the basic fall-protection requirements, outline critical roles and responsibilities, and provide training requirements.
The resource also provides turn-key solutions to document training, perform inspections, and to implement company and site-specific fall-protection plans. This guide is intended to bring added awareness to the seriousness of falls in the industry, and ultimately reduce falls. More construction-related safety resources can be found on MyLossControlServices.com. An additional way to commit to the reduction of falls is to participate in the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction , which is held every spring.
Niosh Construction Statistics
US Bureau of Labor Statistics “A look at falls, slips and trips in the construction industry,”2022