Trying to stem the deadly and crippling tide of falls on the eve of construction’s busiest season, the Labor Department has announced a new push to improve fall protection practices at worksites nationwide.
“The best way to honor Workers’ Memorial Day is to make sure that another family does not have to suffer the pain of losing a loved one because of preventable workplace injuries,” Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said Friday at the Action Summit for Worker Safety and Health in Los Angeles.
|One in three construction-related deaths is caused by a fall, according to OSHA. Falls remain the No. 2 cause of workplace deaths overall.|
“Falls are the most fatal out of all hazards in the construction industry, accounting for almost one in every three construction worker deaths. Our simple message is that safety pays, and falls cost.”
Rising Death Toll
The summit was one of many events held nationwide in honor of Workers’ Memorial Day, an annual event launched by organized labor to recognize workers who have been killed or injured on the job or who have suffered work-related illnesses.
A new report by the Labor Department shows that workplace deaths climbed in 2010, after years of decline. In addition to the 4,690 U.S. workers killed in accidents that year, about 49,000 deaths each year are attributed to work-related illnesses.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 4 million workers in 2010 had a nonfatal occupational injury or illness, including 2.7 million who were treated in emergency departments and 110,000 who were hospitalized.
On-the-job deaths cost the U.S. about $6 billion a year; fatal illnesses, $46 billion, according to BLS.
The Cost of Falls
Falls alone injured more than 10,000 construction-related workers (including painters) in 2010 while working at heights; 255 were killed.
The Labor Department’s new awareness campaign will provide employers and workers with life-saving information and educational materials about working safely from ladders, scaffolds and roofs.
|An OSHA video focuses on preventing falls in bridge work.|
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration developed the fall prevention campaign in partnership with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and NIOSH’s National Occupational Research Agenda program.
OSHA and NIOSH will work with trade associations, labor unions, employers, universities, consulates and community and faith-based organizations to provide employers and workers—especially low-literacy workers, who are most vulnerable—with education and training on common-sense fall prevention equipment and strategies that save lives.
Standards and Resources
OSHA has created a new fall prevention Web page with detailed information in English and Spanish on fall protection standards.
NIOSH and NORA also have created a page on the Centers for Disease Control website. The Center for Construction Research and Training will also maintain a Campaign to End Falls in Construction website that contains information from industry, nonprofit and academic sources.
The resources include a video on preventing falls during bridge work. In general, OSHA makes three recommendations for working at heights:
• Plan. When working from heights, such as ladders, scaffolds, and roofs, employers must plan projects to ensure that the job is done safely. Begin by deciding how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved, and what safety equipment may be needed to complete each task.
• Provide the right equipment. Workers who are six feet or more above lower levels are at risk for serious injury or death if they fall. Employers must provide these workers with fall protection and the right scaffolds, safety gear and other equipment for the job.
• Train workers to identify hazards and use the correct equipment appropriately. Workers need training on the specific equipment they will use to complete the job.
“The busy summer months in the construction industry are upon us, and now is the time to ensure that workers and employers understand what is required to prevent falls,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.
“When working at heights, everyone needs to plan ahead to get the job done safely, provide the right equipment and train workers to use the equipment safely.”