Construction workers are more likely to die on the job than workers in any other industry, and falls from heights take the heaviest toll. Laborers, carpenters and roofers had the largest number of fatal falls in construction, but they are not the only tradesmen susceptible to falls. Plumbers and mechanical contractors are also at risk.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 more than 10,000 construction workers in the private construction industry were injured after falling while working from heights on the job and another 255 workers were killed.Falls account for approximately 32% of all work-related injury deaths in construction. Falls from heights cause the second-highest rate of non-fatal injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work. According to the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) study, small construction companies (10 or fewer employees) had the highest percentage of fatal falls in construction (64%).
Falls shatter lives, families and communities. The costs of fatal falls and injuries in construction are staggering, with heavy burdens on workers, families, employers and society. Even when workers survive, many have traumatic head, neurological and other injuries that often require lengthy recuperation periods, and place enormous emotional, medical and financial burdens on their families. Falls result in significant costs to employers as well, including lost productivity, regulatory inspection costs, and hefty increases in workers’ compensation premiums.
Plumbers and HVAC contractors face fall hazard risks at any point when they are working at heights, whether during the construction stages of a building or during maintenance tasks. We know how to prevent falls with proper equipment, training and on-site planning. Recognizing that now it is time to take action to prevent falls from heights, in 2012, and again in 2013, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and a broad group of partners launched “Safety Pays, Falls Cost,” a nationwide information and media campaign to prevent construction falls from heights. The campaign’s message has three key parts: plan ahead to get the job done safely; provide the right equipment; and train everyone to use the equipment safely. This three-part message is emphasized in posters, fact sheets, videos and other materials, available in Spanish, English and numerous languages.
Plumbers and HVAC contractors can get free informational products for their office and workers. The main campaign website, www.stopconstructionfalls.com,is hosted for CPWR, and NIOSH and OSHA each have websites dedicated to the campaign at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/construction/stopfalls.html and https://www.osha.gov/stopfalls.
Also for free is a new NIOSH Ladder Safety phone app, which has an angle of inclination indicator making it easy to set a ladder at the proper angle (75.5 degrees). The app is available through the NIOSH website, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/falls/, the Apple App-store, https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=658633912&mt=8, and the Android Market, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=gov.cdc.niosh.dsr.laddersafety.
The broad array of almost 70 campaign partners reflects the firm commitment of government, industry, labor, trade groups and professional stakeholder organizations to put an end to falls from heights. The campaign is based on solid research analysis, organized by NIOSH and conducted by the National Occupational Research Agenda’s Construction Sector Council, an industry-labor-government group, which identified preventing falls as a top priority, especially among small residential construction companies.
According to Jim Maddux, director of the OSHA Directorate of Construction, “Fall protection isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also easier to do now with more and better safety equipment. And it really is the law.” But the availability of fall protection equipment doesn’t necessarily lead to universal use. Providing the equipment, training workers so that they use the equipment correctly, and creating a workplace environment where fall protection is expected to be used are all important. For Jeremy Bethancourt, director of safety, health and training at LeBlanc Building Company, the campaign is a great opportunity to raise awareness that proper training and fall protection equipment can make an enormous difference:
“We harness our kids in car seats to keep them safe, but we don’t protect their dads on the job,” said Bethancourt. “If we as contractors insist on fall protection and do it the right way, we don’t have falls that result in deaths or injuries. We have the responsibility, and a moral obligation, to make sure our employees go home at night to their families. It’s about much more than saying, ‘Be careful.’”
With the Safety Pays, Falls Cost campaign, we aim to make fall protection a habit in the construction industry so that no family needs to be at the receiving end of a phone call, telling them their loved one has been killed or hurt from a fall at a construction site. Join us in spreading the campaign message! If you would like to learn about how to join the campaign as a partner, please indicate your interest at [email protected].
Christine M. Branche, Ph.D., Fellow, American College of Epidemiology (FACE) is the Principal Associate Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and is the Director of NIOSH’s Office of Construction Safety and Health. Dr. Branche has conducted extensive research and program development in injury prevention. She received her B.A. in biology from the University of Rochester in New York, and her M.S.P.H. and Ph.D. in epidemiology from the School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.