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Alarmingly, construction worker fatalities have been rising since 2015. On-the-job casualties in construction account for approximately 20% of deaths across all U.S. industries — and falls account for more than a third of these deaths.1

Whatever the size of the job—whether it’s a building a municipal bridge or replacing the roof of a three-family apartment house—working on a construction site presents the risk of grave injury from an accidental trip or a steep downward plummet. Preventing such falls is critical to improving workplace safety. Construction workers deserve to work in an industry that prioritizes safety; here are some best practices to help mitigate the danger of falls at your worksites.

 

1. Create a Culture of Safety in Which Everyone Participates.

While, ultimately, it’s the responsibility of management to ensure a safe worksite, everyone at a worksite has a role to play. At the outset of any project, it’s important to:

  • Put together a collaborative safety team that includes project field management, engineering, your insurer, and key crew members.
  • Provide the necessary resources and equipment for a safe work environment.
  • Set the tone and walk the walk by modeling and supporting a culture of “safety first” behavior, including for subcontractors.

As management can’t have eyes everywhere, workers need to look out for each other’s well-being. Encourage your crews to observe their work area closely and immediately report unsafe conditions – such as unprotected floor openings – or safety equipment that is damaged or being improperly used by colleagues.
 

2. Develop a Proactive Fall Prevention Plan

Prevention is the best “cure” for construction site falls and resulting injuries or fatalities, so proactive, fall specific plans are as important as hard hats. These should be regularly audited and updated; to start:

  • Conduct a job hazard assessment (JHA) to identify exposures and involve designers and suppliers as necessary for each stage of the project. Consider looping in your insurance provider’s risk engineers, who can provide insights. 
  • Institute protocols particular to the project; for example, floor openings may necessitate internal permitting systems around removal, reinstallation, and inspection of guardrail systems.
  • Obtain sign-offs to get in writing that contractors and other parties understand and commit to follow the Fall Prevention Plan.
engineers working in field

 

3. Conduct Fall Prevention Training

Require attendance at fall prevention and protection training on equipment and procedures. Consider the following when planning instruction:

  • Hold training early and often—ideally, before each stage of work begins, after each job pause or suspension, and when new equipment or procedures are introduced. Include fallen worker rescue reminders; shorter briefings should be held before the start of shifts.
  • Focus on proper set-up and use of ladders and scaffolds. Ladder and scaffold related accidents remain a leading cause of worker injury and fatalities. 
  • Include instruction on PFASs. Personal fall arrest systems provide critical safeguards in the event of a fall but only when worn and used correctly. 
  • Offer sessions in other languages if your workers are not native English speakers. 
     

4. Establish a Fallen Worker Rescue Plan

Despite everyone’s best efforts, accidents do happen. When a fall does occur, everyone needs to know what immediate actions to take. An effective plan will outline emergency procedures, medical information, and communication protocols to ensure that injured workers receive treatment as soon as possible.

Also require an accident investigation after any incidents to understand what went wrong and prevent a repeat occurrence.
 

5. Don’t Overlook Post-Pandemic Safety Challenges

As cities, municipalities, and states lift quarantine restrictions following the COVID-19 pandemic, many construction projects are kicking back into full gear and remobilizing their workforces.

All businesses must take steps to safeguard the health of their employees, such as ensuring social distancing and requiring the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). However, this “new normal” at construction sites poses its own set of safety challenges—slip, trip, and fall risks may be exacerbated by:

  • Obstructed vision caused by safety glasses fogging up from use of face masks.
  • Fatigue on warmer days due to restricted breathing when wearing face masks.
  • Stress and anxiety about potential COVID-19 infections at the job site.

Take steps to reorient workers to the construction site, review any changes at the site following shut-down, and provide reminders or refresher training about fall protection measures.

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Fatal occupational injuries for selected industries, 2015-19
 
This document is advisory in nature and is offered as a resource to be used together with your professional insurance advisors in maintaining a loss prevention program. It is an overview only, and is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your insurance broker, or for legal, engineering or other professional advice.

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