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Watch Your Step: Best Practices to Mitigate Fall Risks on Worksites
Did you know that slips, trips and falls are the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related fatalities? In recognition of this critical issue, the National Safety Council (NSC) has made slip, trip and fall accident prevention and risk mitigation a key part of this year’s initiatives for National Safety Month—an annual observance intended to keep individuals safe both in and out of the workplace.
Prevalence of Slip, Trip and Fall Accidents On the Job
Slip, trip and fall accidents are common and can result in serious, even fatal, injuries. According to the NSC, in 2020, more than 211,000 workers suffered injuries that required days off from work, and 805 workers passed away as a result of a fall accident. Data reveals that falls from heights are not the only risk to workers—according to Injury Facts, 136 workers died due to fall injuries on the same level in 2020.
The most at-risk workers for fall-related injuries and deaths are those that work in the construction industry. According to OSHA, falls are the leading cause of death for construction workers. In 2020, there were 351 fatal falls to lower levels out of 1,008 construction fatalities.
Best Practices to Mitigate Slip and Fall Accidents
Workplace accidents involving slips, trips and falls are preventable with proper safety and risk mitigation protocols in place.
According to OSHA, employers are required to:
- Provide safe working conditions, free of known risks of injury or death
- Keep all floor areas in work zones in a clean, dry condition.
- Select and provide workers with required personal protective equipment (PPE) free of charge.
- Provide proper training to workers about safety hazards on the job in a language they can understand.
Best practices for mitigating slips, trips and falls on the job may vary per work environment; however, there are some that are universally applicable.
First, it is important to discuss the job tasks with workers; this includes making sure that the type of equipment needed is determined and the worker is properly trained to perform the task and use the equipment properly. Second, it’s important for employers and/or site safety managers to scan the work area for potential safety risks prior to workers performing job duties. Next, ensure that there is level ground to set up any equipment. If working outdoors, make sure to check the weather forecast. Workers should not perform job tasks in inclement weather. Finally, never use old or damaged equipment and thoroughly check equipment prior to performing work duties.
If using stepladders or ladders, it’s important to ensure that they have a locking device to hold the front and back open. Make sure to have employers and site safety managers go over the proper use of ladders, including best practices. According to NSC, these tips include:
- Always keep two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on the ladder.
- Do not lean or reach for things while on the ladder; always have someone to support the bottom.
- Place the ladder on a solid, level surface. Do not lean ladders against an unstable surface.
- Straight and extension ladders should be fastened to an upper support and must be one foot away from the surface it rests on for every four feet of height and extend at least three feet over the top edge.
- Wear PPE, including slip-resistant shoes.
- Don’t stand higher than the third rung from the top.
According to OSHA, steps that employers and site safety managers must take on construction sites to prevent falls include guarding open floor holes that a worker might be able to accidentally walk on, such as using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover. Employers must provide a guardrail and toe-board around all elevated open-sided platforms, floors or runways. Regardless of height, if there’s a possibility that a worker can fall into dangerous machinery or equipment, a guardrail and toe-boards must be provided to prevent falls and serious injuries. Depending on the job tasks, workers may need to be provided with safety harnesses, safety nets, stair railings and handrails.
Site Safety Meeting Tips
Site safety meetings are crucial to keeping workers safe and protecting them from serious injuries. Employers in the construction industry should consider implementing regular site safety meetings and educating workers on important safety guidelines, allowing for them to ask questions and provide feedback.
A site safety meeting should start with an overview of PPE and how to use it properly to perform the job task. Employers and site safety managers should discuss when the PPE is necessary, what type of PPE is needed for each task, demonstrate how to properly put the PPE on, adjust, wear and remove it, and how to properly care for, maintain, term of use and disposal procedures for the items.
In terms of fall protection, it’s important to discuss an overview of fall protection, including common hazards, how to recognize risks on the job site, on-site fall safety requirements, training on how to proceed in close proximity to fall risks, how to use equipment properly, and what to do if an accident occurs.
Should a slip and fall accident occur on the job site, it is important to remain calm and administer first aid to the injured worker. Fall injuries can be serious, so it’s important not to hesitate to contact emergency services. Even if the worker insists they are fine, they may be in shock from the accident, and their condition may be worse than they initially thought. Hence, it’s always best to have a medical professional evaluate and treat their conditions.
For site safety managers and employers, it’s important to take action to prevent secondary accidents by denying access to people who do not need to be at the scene. For example, if there is a fall through an open hole in the floor, keep other workers away from that area in case the ground is unstable, and someone else can fall through.
It’s also important to preserve evidence on the worksite, so control the scene and do not alter or remove anything. Identify who was present at the time of the accident and witnessed what happened before, during and following the accident.
Workers who are injured on a worksite while performing their job duties may be able to recover damages for lost wages, medical bills, and disability benefits by filing a workers’ compensation claim. If a worker is injured as a result of negligence due to a third-party, outside of an employer, the injured individual may wish to seek the guidance of an experienced personal injury lawyer who can advise them of their legal rights and remedies.
Overall, slip, trip and fall accidents are common and can result in serious, life-altering injuries, so it is crucial to take steps to prevent these incidents in the workplace. Employers and site safety managers should take the lead in preventing these accidents by implementing property safety protocols such as providing proper PPE, making sure workers are trained to perform the job task and use the proper equipment and holding regular site safety meetings to discuss workplace hazards and best practices to prevent accidents. If an accident occurs, seek immediate medical attention and evaluation, control the scene to preserve evidence and take steps to prevent secondary injuries. Workers who suffer injuries on job sites can recover financial losses and disability benefits through a workers’ compensation claim. Those injured due to a third party’s negligence may seek to recover damages through a personal injury lawsuit.
About the Author
David H. Perecman, Founder and Lead Trial Attorney of The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., has dedicated over 40 years of his life to advocating for personal injury plaintiffs in New York City and Long Island. Since 1983, the firm has recovered over half a billion dollars in high-stakes personal injury litigation involving catastrophic construction accidents, motor vehicle and premises accidents, civil rights violations, and medical negligence. This year, in recognition of his groundbreaking work in and out of the courtroom, Perecman has been named a Best Lawyers® 2022 Personal Injury Litigation - Plaintiffs “Lawyer of the Year” awardee in Long Island, NY.