The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, since 1992, 600 to 847 workers per year have fallen to their deaths while on the job. Falls accounted for 14% of workplace fatalities and a number of catastrophic injuries in 2009. Falls on construction sites also cost contractors and their insurance companies enormous amounts of money for Workers Compensation medical and disability benefits and for liability settlements and judgments. It therefore makes moral and financial sense for contractors to take precautions to prevent falls from happening. This means identifying where the exposures to falls exist, implementing fall protection, and reducing injuries from falls that do occur. Almost any construction project will have some exposure to roofs with no barriers to keep workers from falling off, holes in floors and roofs, and openings in walls. To reduce the exposure to these hazards:
- Use guardrails, safety nets, or safety harnesses tied off to lifelines, or a combination of them, whenever workers have an exposure to drops of six feet or more.
- Cover or barricade floor holes as soon as possible after they are created.
- Construct floor hole covers to hold twice the combined weight of the employees, equipment, and materials that might be on them at one time.
Workers on scaffolds have to maneuver around the materials and equipment with which they are sharing space. Without adequate protection, it is far too easy for a worker to lose his balance or step the wrong way and fall. To prevent this from happening, contractors should:
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for building the scaffold.
- Install guardrails on all open sides and ends.
- Consider using safety harnesses connected to lifelines when the fall potential is 10 feet or more.
- Provide access to the scaffold only from the structure, another scaffold, some type of hoist, or safely positioned ladders, ramps or other walkways.
- Prohibit workers from climbing the scaffold cross-braces to gain access.
Steel rebar protruding from the ground can cause major injuries or death to workers who fall on them. Contractors should use these protections to prevent impalement:
- Install fall prevention or protection measures, such as guardrails, harnesses and safety nets.
- Guard the protruding rebar ends with caps designed to provide impalement protection or with pieces of lumber.
- Bend the protruding ends so that they are not upright.
In 2009, one out of every five fatal falls was from a ladder. Portable ladders can move or slip off their footings while workers are on them. They can also tip over while on uneven ground, or a worker can lose his balance if the ladder is unsteady. To prevent this from happening:
- Inspect ladders to verify that they are in good condition. Watch for broken or cracking rungs, side rails, feet and locks.
- Position ladders so that the side rails extend three feet or more above the landing. * Tie off the side rails to some type of rigid support at the top. If it is not possible for the side rails to extend three feet above the top, attach a grab device to the top of the ladder.
- Ensure that the ladder will not slip when the worker places weight on it.
- Do not place weights on ladders that exceed their load capacities.
Contractors should work with their insurance companies’ loss control consultants to implement effective safety programs. Our insurance agents can provide timely data about your Workers Compensation and Liability insurance claims. Although safety measures might seem like an expense, they help control insurance costs and retain good workers by making the contractor a safe company for which to work.