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Study Urges Action on Residential Falls

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

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The leading cause of death in the construction industry exacts its greatest toll in the residential sector, with clear trends that merit additional oversight and training, a new study says.

Fall safety among residential builders lags behind commercial construction and industrial settings, according to “Fatal falls in the U.S. residential construction industry,” conducted by the CPWR: the Center for Construction Research and Training.

Protecting residential construction workers will require more attention to fall-prevention programs and more scrutiny by regulators, the study says.


Fatal construction falls disproportionately affect self-employed, older and Hispanic workers, the study said.

Almost half of the 1,917 fatalities in U.S. residential construction between 2003 and 2010 stemmed from falls. The victims were overwhelmingly self-employed, older and Hispanic, the study found.

During the period examined, roofers overwhelmingly accounted for the highest proportion of fatalities from falls (80.4 percent), followed by drywall installers (65.2 percent) and carpenters (64.9 percent).

The findings, examining patterns and trends using national datasets, were published in the September issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Key Findings

Other clear trends emerged from the data.

About one-third of fatal falls in residential construction occurred among self-employed workers, the study found. Workers in small companies of 10 or fewer employees also were disproportionately represented among the fatalities.

Workers older than 55 and those who were Hispanic foreign-born had higher proportions of fatal falls in residential construction compared to nonresidential construction.

Hispanic worker
©iStock / DenGuy

The study found that a larger percentage of foreign-born Hispanic workers were killed in residential jobsites than in nonresidential settings.

The events surrounding fall fatalities were different in residential and nonresidential construction; however, falls from roofs were the No. 1 cause in both sectors, the study found.

The residential sector saw more falls from ladders (23 percent), while falls from scaffolds and staging were more common in nonresidential construction (18 percent).

Reversing the Toll

Fall-protection hazards have been the leading source of Occupational Safety and Health Administration citations for three straight years. And the new study's authors note that compliance with fall regulations has a long way to go.

The authors call for greater fall safety regulations to reduce fall injuries in the residential sector.

They also urge residential contractors to step up training, provide written fall protection programs that indicate what type of fall protection will be used for specific tasks, and enforce their programs.

Meanwhile, OSHA should consider new ways to target high-hazard residential worksites, the authors say.

Reducing fall injuries and fatalities among the self-employed will require alternative approaches, as OSHA regulations do not apply to these workers.

Those approaches might include safety pre-qualifications to bidding, adding safety components to local licensing of residential contractors, or requiring safety elements in building codes.

The study was funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


Tagged categories: Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health and safety; Labor; North America; Research; Residential Construction; Roofing contractors; Trends; Workers

Comment from Karl Kardel, (10/8/2014, 1:55 PM)

Both in my consulting work (p.i. cases at construction sites) and with specialty contractors I am constantly battling them over safety gear, lead regs and site clean up. They are all with one exception immigrants from south or from Eastern Europe. They are in a hurry to make money, and are scary as to rigging. I fired one American firm because he became enraged about dust in the air, and lead problems. One fatality on another job (not mine) in SF, the roofer is in jail after commenting "money first, safety second, ha ha" Lack of observation of fall protection, lead regs. is abundant in residential work, and these guys have nearly destroyed the market as they pay no workers comp. insurance, or often tax's. The inspectors just drive by, but harass rather than educate licensed contractors. I send people home when they are careless with the admonition "I don't make enough to tell your mom you are in a wheel chair."

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