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Examining Fall Hazards and Fatalities

On April 28, 2017, the safety community will acknowledge the death of those workers who have died on the job.  We are reminded that the core reason for making safety a priority in our workplace is the possibility of death and serious injury.  A leading cause of serious work related injuries and deaths in the workplace are falls. They are also one of the most preventable causes of work deaths and injuries.

What can employers do to prevent falls?  OSHA regulations require fall protection at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces and six feet in the construction industry.  In addition, OSHA requires fall protection when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance. Falls to a lower level accounted for 81 percent of all fatal falls. Of those cases where the height of the fall was known, more than two-fifths of fatal falls occurred from 15 feet or lower. Fatal falls to a lower level accounted for nearly 40 percent of fatal work injuries in the private construction industry in 2015.

To prevent employees from being injured from falls, employers must:

  • Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk (using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover).
  • Provide a guard rail and toe-board around every elevated open sided platform, floor or runway.
  • Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto dangerous machines or equipment (such as a vat of acid or a conveyor belt) employers must provide guardrails and toe-boards to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
  • Other means of fall protection that may be required on certain jobs include safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings and hand rails.

Construction’s “Fatal Four”:

Out of 4,379 worker fatalities in private industry in the 2015 calendar year, 937, or 21.4% were in construction — that is, one in five worker deaths were in construction. The leading causes of private sector worker deaths in the construction industry were falls, followed by struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between. These “Fatal Four” as they are called, were responsible for more than half (64.2%) the construction worker deaths in 2015. Eliminating the Fatal Four would save 602 workers’ lives in America every year.

(*This category includes construction workers killed when caught-in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structure, equipment, or material)

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