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 for the ninth year in a row annually observes National Safety Stand-Down, which is part of the National Falls Campaign, originally developed to go along with Worker’s Memorial Day, it is now a week long event. This year's Safety Stand-Down focuses on preventing falls in construction. It takes place May 2-6, 2022, also coinciding with Construction Safety Week. Falls from elevation continue to be a leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry – and these deaths are preventable. The Safety Stand-Down is designed to raise fall hazard awareness across the country in an effort to stop fall fatalities and injuries by asking employers and workplaces to take a small amount of time out of their work schedule to gather employees and discuss fall hazards. Falls can occur in virtually any work setting, but workers in the construction, mining, and agriculture industries are at the highest risk of sustaining a fall injury.
The Prevalence of Falls in the Construction Sector
Construction workers are exposed to a higher than average number of workplace hazards, especially falls. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 351 of the 1,008 construction fatalities in 2020 were caused by falls from elevation. 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, OSHA continues to find falls in the construction industry to be one of the most frequently cited safety violations. "Fall protection – general requirements" once again took the number one spot on OSHA's 2021 top safety violations list, with “ladders" and "scaffolding" moving up to the third and fourth spots respectively.
Understanding and 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.
Fall Prevention 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 Bureau of Labor Statistics, 574 private sector agricultural workers were fatally injured on the job in 2018. In addition to that, in the same year, agricultural workers suffered 17,390 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses that resulted in days away from work. Many of these injuries occurred on ladders and scaffolding, and included slips, trips and falls.
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.
Take Responsibility for Fall Prevention
Although not every workplace fall can be avoided, it’s possible to make improvements to reduce accidents by investing in safety. 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 safety or warnings strategy.
This blog was originally posted on 5/6/19 and has been updated with new information throughout.