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Stopping Fatal Falls

Five of OSHA's ten most violated construction standards during fiscal year 2017 were related to falls. And one of the other five is 1926.453, which requires the use of fall protection by workers in aerial lifts. The list explains why OSHA and many manufacturers of safety equipment put so much emphasis on fall protection and fall prevention.

At the top of the list of OSHA's FY 2017 ten most-violated construction standards is Fall Protection—General Requirements (1926.501), followed by  Scaffolding (1926.451), Ladders (1926.1053), and Fall Protection—Training (1926.503). The aerial lifts standard was eighth on the list, with Fall Protection—Systems Criteria and Practices (1926.502) ranked tenth.

Falls are the leading cause of death in the U.S. construction industry, with 370 fatal falls to a lower level representing 37.3 percent of the 991 construction fatalities in 2016, according to BLS data cited by OSHA in the online page for its campaign to prevent falls in construction.

The campaign includes the annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction; the fifth annual Stand-Down took place during the week of May 7-11, 2018, with OSHA, NIOSH, and CPWR urging employers to take part. This was the seventh year of the National Construction Fall Prevention Campaign. The two federal agencies ask employers to set aside time during the week to have open discussions about fall prevention.

The campaign seeks to raise awareness among workers and employers about common fall hazards in construction and how to prevent falls from scaffolds, ladders, and roofs.

Elements of the National Safety Stand-Down
The agencies reported that during the past four years, thousands of companies participated in the National Safety Stand-Down, reaching some 7.5 million employees across the United States and internationally through more than 130 public events and thousands of private stand-downs per year. OSHA says the focus for employers should be to:

  • PLAN ahead to get the job done safely, beginning by decided how a job will be done, what tasks it will involve, and what safety equipment is needed to complete each task;
  • PROVIDE the right equipment, including fall protection and the right kinds of ladders, scaffolds, and safety gear; and
  • TRAIN everyone to set up and use the equipment safely and to recognize hazards on the job.

"The Stand-Down is not limited only to construction industry trades," Dean McKenzie, director of OSHA's Directorate of Construction, and Christine M. Branche, Ph.D., FACE, principal associate director of NIOSH and director of its Office of Construction Safety and Health, said in an email in May 2018. "In fact, due to valuable information gathered from your participation in previous National Stand-Downs, we have found that many stakeholders within the construction industry as well as general industry and governmental entities join us in this event each year. Each year, large corporations and small companies have joined us to make this effort a success. If your employees work at height or are exposed to falls, you have a vested interest in standing down your operations to emphasize fall protection or other safety-related topics."

Recent Enforcement Cases
Falls, including fatal falls, figured prominently in OSHA's enforcement actions during August and September 2018. Among the cases posted by the agency were these:

  • Sept. 19, 2018: OSHA cited an employer for exposing employees to fall hazards and other hazards at a construction site in Bridgeport, Conn., and issued $146,554 in proposed penalties. The agency said its inspectors saw employees installing shingles and a skylight without fall protection. The company was cited for failing to provide fall protection, train employees to recognize fall hazards, and properly anchor fall protection equipment; using a damaged ladder and exposing employees to falls from ladders; failing to provide eye protection; and failing to conduct regular inspections of work site, materials, and equipment.
  • Sept. 17, 2018: OSHA cited two companies following a fatal fall at a communication tower site in Utica, Miss. One was cited for exposing employees to fall and struck-by hazards, failing to remove or replace damaged attachments between the hook of a crane and the load, and for not capping the ends of rebar. The second company, a crane rental firm, was cited for not removing damaged equipment from service. OSHA issued a total of $20,990 in proposed penalties in the case.
  • Aug. 29, 2018: OSHA cited a roofing company for exposing employees to falls and other hazards at a St. Johns, Fla., work site and issued $105,283 in proposed penalties to the Jacksonville-based roofing company. OSHA reported that it investigated the company as part of a Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction by Region IV; the company was cited for failing to ensure employees utilized a fall protection system, for failing to ensure employees utilized eye protection, and for not extending a portable ladder 3 feet above the roof landing. OSHA had cited the company for similar safety violations in January 2018. "The use of fall protection is not an option – it is a legal requirement that saves lives," said OSHA Jacksonville Acting Area Office Director Michelle Gonzalez. "This company's continued failure to comply with fall protection standards puts the lives of its employees at risk for serious or fatal injury."
  • Aug. 28, 2018: OSHA cited two companies for fall and confined space hazards after an employee was hospitalized following a 30-foot fall at a Millport, Ala., facility, and issued a combined $203,798 in penalties. OSHA cited one with the maximum allowable penalty for exposing employees to fall hazards. The agency also cited the company for failing to conduct atmospheric monitoring before allowing employees to enter a confined space; failing to develop a permit prior to employees entering a confined space; and failing to ensure emergency services were provided when employees entered a permit-required confined space. OSHA cited the second company for exposing employees to fall hazards and failing to implement their permit space entry program.
  • Aug. 2, 2018: OSHA cited an Ohio-based coat hanger recycling company for exposing its workers to fall, machine guarding, and electrical hazards; failing to train forklift operators; and not having proper emergency exit signage. OSHA issued $190,247 in proposed penalties in the case.

CPWR's website offers tips for keeping a fall protection program alive throughout the year, not just during the Stand-Down week. For example, the organization recommends scheduling activities quarterly or monthly to keep crews focused on preventing falls.

According to the CPWR tip sheet, any job site that experiences a fall should, at a minimum:

1. Determine what caused the fall.

2. Inspect and remove any faulty personal fall arrest systems or equipment, such as ladders or scaffolds, that may have contributed to the fall.

3. Have an open conversation with workers about their concerns.

4. Conduct refresher training on fall prevention.

5. Communicate the importance of fall protection throughout the organization.

At, OSHA has posted educational materials and resources. These include wallet cards, booklets and fact sheets, and links to other fall protection/prevention sources.

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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