Falls are still the leading cause of death in the construction industry. And they are preventable.
OSHA is partnering with safety organizations to educate employers and construction workers about fall hazards and how to minimize the risk.
Falls are the leading killer of construction workers
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 370 out of 991 deaths in the construction industry in 2016 involved falls from elevation. More than one-third. Falling is more dangerous to construction workers than power tools, heavy machinery, trenches, electricity and all the other hazards at a work site.
Low heights can be fatal too
Falls from several stories make headlines, but more than 25 percent of fatal falls in construction occur just 6 to 15 feet off the ground. Workers quickly adapt to working at 10 or 20 feet, and let their guard down. Employers downplay the risk and fail to provide or require safety equipment. A misstep, a tripping hazard or a gust of wind is all it takes.
Overall, falls from roofs account for 36 percent of falling fatalities, falls from ladders make up 24 percent and scaffolding accidents cause 14 percent. The federal government, the state of New York and New York City all have specific regulations for working at heights, including rules for roofs, ladders and scaffolds.
3 steps to preventing construction falls: Plan, Provide and Train
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a three-pronged campaign to eliminate foreseeable falls in the construction trades:
- Plan – Project planning should anticipate dangerous situations and safety equipment needed.
- Provide – Employers must provide safety gear to any worker who is working at heights of 6 feet or more, including personal fall arrest systems (PFAs), the proper type of ladder for the job, and scaffolding that is properly erected and in safe condition.
- Train – All construction workers and foremen should be trained on proper use of safety equipment, including harnesses and tethers, head and eye protection, placing and securing ladders, and erecting and moving scaffolds.
New York City law protects construction workers
The average workers’ compensation case for a construction site falling injury adds up to about $100,000 in medical bills and lost wages. However, workers’ comp is not the only remedy. New York City’s special law (Labor Law 240) applies to ladder and scaffolding accidents and other accidents involving working at heights.
Under this law, construction contractors and property owners can be sued for personal injury damages for creating safety hazards or failing to provide adequate fall protection. As an example, scaffolds above 20 feet must have a 34-inch safety railing on all sides.