The construction industry is extremely dangerous due to hazardous material and large machinery that are used daily. However, the number one cause of construction fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is one that many might least suspect: falling. Workers take safety and training courses to learn how to properly handle the equipment on the job site, but many courses often bypass the importance of fall protection.
Fall Fatalities by the Numbers:
How many falls occur yearly?
Total construction fall fatalities, including slips and trips, in 2015 amounted to 364 which is 39% of all types of documented fatalities in the construction industry (Figure 1). This is 15% more than the 2nd largest cause of construction fatalities which is transportation incidents. There were 226 incidents of fatalities involving land, air, and water transportation. Typically, a truck or forklift would seem more dangerous than a 6 foot drop from a workstation, but the amount of fall fatalities in the construction industry proves otherwise.
Across all industries, there was a total of 755 fall fatalities. This means that construction fall fatalities consisted of 48% of ALL fall fatalities (Figure 2). It is needless to say that falling is a real threat to construction workers’ safety and must be addressed.
Who is most likely to fall?
Typically, construction fatalities and age have an inverse relation where younger people experience more fatalities due to inexperience. However, fall fatalities and age are directly related which means that older construction workers experience a higher risk of falling, slipping, or tripping. This could be attributed to slower motor skills and reaction time along with reduced balance capabilities.
The line graph (Figure 3) shows a slight decrease after the 45-54 age group which can most likely be attributed to the fact that there are fewer people in the 55-64 or 65+ age groups that are in the construction workforce. Therefore, the number of people who fall, slip, or trip is lower even though the percentage is most likely equal to or higher than the 45-54 age group.
Where do construction fall fatalities occur most often?
Texas, Florida, California, North Carolina, and Tennessee experience the highest frequency of fall fatalities within the construction industry (Figure 4). It is understandable that Texas, Florida, and California rank among the top because those states have larger general populations. Therefore, they have more people in the construction workforce and will experience more fatalities than smaller states. North Carolina is roughly 1/4 the size of California and Tennessee is only 1/5 the size of California. The incident rate is surprising for these smaller states. Perhaps there are not enough training programs in these states.
Why are so many workers falling?
Accidents will happen no matter how much planning and training is provided, but companies are lacking the proper training and aren’t complying with fall protection regulations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a list of the top 10 most frequently cited safety and health violations for the fiscal year, compiled from nearly 32,000 inspections of workplaces. If employers corrected these top 10 hazards, OSHA personnel are confident that the number of fatalities would decrease dramatically. To the right are the top 10 safety issues that were observed.
- Fall protection
- Hazard communication
- Respiratory protection
- Powered industrial trucks
- Machine guarding
- Electrical wiring
- Electrical, general requirements
How are construction companies supposed to prevent falls, slips, and trips?
Employers must set up the workplace to prevent employees from falling off overhead platforms, elevated work stations, or into holes in the floor and walls. Fall protection is required for elevations above 6 feet, but if the platform/work station is above dangerous equipment or machinery, fall protection is required regardless of the height. Scaffolding requires fall protection for platforms that are higher than 10 feet above the ground, and there is usually built-in protection from the guardrail on the scaffold.
What is fall protection?
There are three types of fall protection that OSHA deems adequate:
The most common fall protection method is to install guardrails and toe-boards around the entire elevated area. This is the simplest form of fall protection and is sufficient for lower elevations. Safety nets and personal fall arrest systems should be considered when working at extreme heights like large bridges.
Not only should there be physical measures put in place, but there should be an environment that promotes safety. In companies where daily crew meetings were conducted and job-specific safety procedures discussed, fewer fatalities were recorded. It may seem redundant to discuss safety procedures every day, but it will allow workers and supervisors to collaborate on new safety measures that should be implemented. Let it be noted that supervisors should be just as knowledgeable, if not more so, than laborers; supervisors need to be able to step in and correct any safety violations that he or she notices.
The most important factor in construction is safety. Work on creating a safe environment for employees through using physical fall protection elements and by educating employees of safety tactics. Invest in your employees and keep them safe. It will pay off in the long run.