Falls are one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in America. A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that more than 30,000 people died from falls that year. While falls may affect anyone, they are particularly dangerous in the workplace. Each year, more than 1 million workers’ comp claims are filed and falls account for nearly 40% of all construction deaths.
Here, we hope to educate you about the most common fall situations and provide simple guidelines to help you prevent fall-related injuries and deaths. It’s important to remember that this is just a starting point. If you have any further questions, refer to the OSHA website for more information.
The first step to avoiding injury or death-related falls is to identify some of their most common causes. Here are a few things to keep an eye on:
Falls from ladders are by far one of the leading causes of injury or death from a fall. Each year, more than 900,000 people receive treatment for injuries due to ladder-related falls; 700 of those falls result in occupational deaths.
The good news is these falls are easily prevented with proper ladder use. By choosing the correct ladder for the task; placing it on a flat, even surface; and practicing proper climbing techniques – such as maintaining 3 points of contact and not carrying objects while climbing – many of these injuries can be avoided.
At Dakota Safety, we offer a number of products for ladder safety, including gates and cages to protect users from falling backward down ladders; as well as ladder guards (available in 20-inch, 22-inch, and 25-inch widths) that can attach to new or existing ladders to keep unauthorized people from using ladders.
2. Scaffolding and Raised Walkways
While it may seem like this only applies to construction workers, scaffold safety is something that applies to anyone on or near a raised walkway. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported 72% of injuries due to scaffolding were the result of poor structural integrity, slippage, or falling objects. These are things that can cause serious injury or death to anyone, not just workers.
When working or walking on a raised walkway, it is important to be watchful for any flaws in the structure and to practice safe behaviors. In particular, never climb on the supports of a raised walkway.
Whether you are a construction worker or a building maintenance worker, safety while working on a roof is extremely important. A study published in The Journal of Safety Research found that more than 30% of fall fatalities were the result of roof-related falls.
If your company uses active fall protection, be sure to use all of the appropriate safety harnesses and lines. It is important to only use safety gear that fits properly and is undamaged. Be especially careful around holes or skylights in the roof.
There are many other situations that may cause falls. Indoor floor holes must have proper guardrails, skylight screens, and toeboards. Workers near dangerous machinery or materials, such as corrosives, must wear proper safety gear. Stairways must have handrails to provide balance. Both indoor and outdoor walkways must be kept as dry and clean as possible to prevent slippage. In all cases, signs should warn of potential dangers.
Training, inspection, and required documentation – including recovery plans – are very important with fall protection. When guardrails are in place and an area is protected, workers can be active in an area without having to use active fall protection, which requires additional specialized training, inspection, and documentation.
OSHA provides a very helpful pamphlet about fall safety. While it is geared toward educating workers about fall safety, there are many useful pieces of information that anyone can take advantage of to protect themselves. Here’s a quick look at OSHA’s 3 main teaching points.
Whether you’re completing a job or just walking to the store, having a strong idea of what should happen can help prevent what shouldn’t happen. Determine any tools or safety gear that you might need. It’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around. Whatever you’re doing, be mindful of your environment and any possible dangers. These dangers may be anything including, but not limited to, slippery walkways and falling objects.
Passive systems, such as guardrails, serve as permanent solutions to potential safety threats. When planning how to best protect your facility or worksite, consider what enduring systems you can put into place.
If there is a situation that can potentially become dangerous, make sure all necessary safety equipment is available. Regularly inspect it for damage. If necessary, hire a trained professional to perform scheduled maintenance and inspections on heavy equipment, such as scissor lifts and elevators or other fall prevention systems. Guidelines for scheduled maintenance should be written on the safety certificate. Review the information and plan ahead to keep everything running smoothly. Provide clear signs that will make both workers and the public aware of any dangers.
As an employer, make sure that employees are properly trained on how to use any equipment they may need. Many pieces of machinery require special licensing or certification to ensure safe usage. Encourage workers to keep a watchful eye out for any unsafe behavior and take it upon themselves to keep each other honest. Post signs about workplace safety to remind everyone of the importance of safe behaviors. In case of an emergency, provide a first aid kid and proper training to all employees on how to use it. Have a plan for who to contact in an emergency and how to execute evacuation plans.
If you are still unsure about how to keep falls from happening, OSHA provides both basic guidelines and links to more in-depth information. One very important thing to keep in mind is to provide all necessary safety information in a language that each person can understand. Research has shown that Hispanic workers suffer significantly more fatalities from falls than those who speak English as a first language. It doesn’t matter how many signs you hang, videos you watch, or classes you attend if you can’t understand the language they’re in. Be sure to provide the appropriate educational materials so that everyone can learn how to be safe.
Despite the large number of fall injuries and deaths each year, we have reason not to be discouraged. OSHA reports that since 1970, workplace fatalities have decreased by 66% and there have been dramatic decreases in workplace injuries. This is all despite a growing workforce that has nearly doubled in the same timeframe. With proper education, equipment, and behavior, these injuries and deaths are entirely preventable.