Preventing Falls in the Workplace - A Breakdown by Industry
Workplace falls are a serious problem across the country, especially in industrial, construction and manufacturing settings. To raise awareness about the dangers of falls in the workplace, OSHA annually observes National Safety Stand-Down, which is part of the National Falls Campaign. This year’s Safety Stand-Down, originally scheduled for May 4-8, has been postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, OSHA remains vigilant in reminding employers and workers that falls from elevation continue to remain the number one cause of fatalities in the construction industry — and that these deaths are completely preventable.
The Safety Stand-Down is designed to raise fall hazard awareness across the country in an effort to stop fall fatalities and injuries. In the industrial sectors, the term “safety stand-down” is used to describe an event or activity meant to educate employees about a particular safety hazard. Falls can occur in virtually any work setting, but workers in the construction, agricultural, and mining industries are at the highest risk of sustaining a fall injury. OSHA’s 7th annual National Safety Stand-Down is expected to be rescheduled for summer 2020.
Falls in the
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 5,250 worker fatalities in 2018, approximately 1,008 (19.2%) occurred in a construction setting. In other words, nearly one in five workplace fatalities took place on construction sites. As indicated by the previously mentioned statistic, construction workers are exposed to a higher than average number of workplace hazards, especially falls. In hopes of reducing the number of fall deaths, many companies are now placing more emphasis on construction safety.
Despite this newfound concern for fall prevention, between December 2018 and September 2019, OSHA found falls in the construction industry to be one of the most frequently cited safety violations. “Fall protection – general requirements” took the number one spot on OSHA’s 2019 top safety violations list, with “scaffolding” and “ladders” in the third and sixth spots respectively.
Preventing Falls in the Mining Industry
In terms of mining safety, about five fall-related deaths occur yearly, which is significantly higher than in other industries. Miners work in some of the most demanding and unsafe environments in existence, and many mining companies have recently started taking fall safety seriously. According to OSHA, the majority of falls in the mining industry occurred during equipment maintenance and repair, as well as construction and dismantling operations. The majority of fall deaths also occurred when workers fell from a great height. These deaths were often caused by:
- Falling through an opening
- Unexpected movement of above and below ground equipment
- Failure to walk on a surface correctly
There are many factors contributing to the high number of falls in the mining industry, including inadequate barriers, a lack of protective gear, and the inappropriate use of fall protection equipment.
To prevent slips and falls in the mining industry, OSHA recommends: (1) selecting and installing adequate barriers, (2) regularly inspecting and maintain safety equipment, (3) paying special attention to repair, construction, and maintenance activities, (4) ensuring workers undergo safety training.
Among Agricultural Workers
Farming safety, which includes the safe production of food and beverages , is a rising concern, especially considering agricultural workers suffer from some of the highest rates of workplace injuries and deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 416 agriculture workers were killed in the workplace in 2017, which translates to approximately 20.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, which is unusually high. Many of these injuries occurred on ladders and scaffolding, causing falls to be one of the primary sources of death and injury in the industry, especially among older and less experienced agricultural workers.
To prevent falls in the agricultural industry, workers, owners, and managers can take the following measures: (1) Encourage workers to get regular exercise to improve balance, flexibility, and strength, (2) Require workers to undergo eye exams periodically, especially those over the age of 40, (3) Make sure workers have shoes that fit, (4) Regularly maintain ladders, scaffolds, and other pieces of lifting equipment.
Farm owners can also make a difference by inspecting their farm for fall hazards, placing non-slip mats on uneven and slippery surfaces, ensuring work areas are adequately illuminated, and installing non-slip grips on ladders and guardrails on scaffolds.
Ways to Prevent
Falls in Any Industry
Preventing falls requires the cooperation of all workers, supervisors, and owners, and according to OSHA, employers can take the following measures on their own:
- Providing a toe-board and guard around open floors, runways, and platforms.
- Providing guardrails and toe-boards near dangerous equipment or machines (ex: conveyor belts, hazardous chemicals)
- Covering floor holes to prevent falls
- Taking other steps to ensure the safety of workers, such as installing stair rails and safety nets, and requiring the use of harnesses.
By taking the basic, cost-effective measures listed above, companies can greatly reduce the number of falls in the workplace.
OSHA also provides employers with a list of measures meant to prevent falls in the workplace. Employers are legally obligated to take these measures or they can face disciplinary action. Some of these measures include:
- Ensuring floors are clean, dry, and clear of any obstructions
- Regularly providing employees with a hazard-free work environment
- Training workers about the importance of workplace safety
- Providing cost-free protective equipment to workers
The measures above are relatively simple, but they can have a positive impact on workers and their safety.
Responsibility for Fall Prevention
Although not every workplace fall can be avoided, it’s possible to make improvements to reduce accidents by investing in a few simple, low-cost safety measures. You can learn more about workplace safety and fall prevention in Clarion Safety’s Resource Center. We also have the labels and signs you need to communicate effectively about fall hazards. Get in touch with us today to talk about how we can help with your warnings or prevention strategy.
This blog was originally posted on 5/6/19 and has been updated with new information throughout.