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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

Preventing Deadly Falls in the Fall…and all Year Long

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Nov 2, 2009 8:00:18 PM

Carrie Bettinger - CSP, CHMM
As a seasoned safety instructor I have learned that providing real examples of injuries or fatalities that have occurred is a way to really reach workers and begin to change their attitude toward safety.  Recently I conducted fall protection training and was on the new and improved OSHA website looking at a running tally of worker fatalities per week featured on the homepage.  While looking through these fatalities you see a tragic and consistent pattern of worker cause of death: Falls.

worker tally

In the space of 10 days 18 worker fatalities were reported and 7 of them were from falls:

  1. 8/15/2009 Victim was installing asphalt shingles and fell 40 feet to the ground.

  2. 8/21/2009 Victim was working in the basket of an articulating truck mounted boom. During movement of the boom, victim was catapulted out of the basket.

  3. 8/21/2009 Victim was pressure washing a vessel standing on a scaffold 15 to 20 feet, and fell.

  4. 8/22/2009 Victim was performing drywall work and fell 9 feet from a tubular welded scaffold.

  5. 8/24/2009 Victim was cleaning out a pit at a grain elevator. He was walking near the unguarded opening and fell through, 15-20 feet, to the bottom of the pit.

  6. 8/25/2009 Victim was working from an 8-foot step ladder doing caulking on a ceiling/wall area and fell to the ground.

  7. 8/26/2009 Victim fell from a 3-step ladder.

It would be nice to say this was just a strange coincidence or a freak occurrence that these fatalities all happened within this 10-day timeframe.  Unfortunately when you look through the previous weeks for 2009, 2008, 2007, etc. you will realize that this is normal for the United States workplace.

It does not matter what industry we look at; Marine, Agriculture, Construction or General Industry, it is clear that we are not protecting workers with the methods that are available and feasible in 99% of cases.

In the above cases every single one could have been prevented with better planning, correct work platforms, conventional fall prevention and worker training.  Below are the fixes that could have been done and are being done by those companies who want to ensure every one of there employees go home to their families every day.

  1. Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS) designed specifically for roofers such as “Safety in a Bucket” that comes with a roof ridgeline anchor, body harness and rope lanyard.

  2. All workers in aerial lifts must wear a PFAS and attach it to the approved anchor point on the bucket/basket.

  3. Inspect the scaffold and ensure it is stable, fully planked and guardrails are around every side a fall can occur from.  These rules apply to every industry not just construction.

  4. Same as above and any construction company applying OSHA’s 10’ fall protection rule on a scaffold needs to wake up and realize that the worker who fell that 9’ had a 50% chance of dying and being in compliance does not bring that worker back.

  5. Guarding a pit, skylight or other hole can be as simple as placing and securing a piece of plywood over it.  Other ideas would be installing fold down guardrails that could have been installed and in the up position while workers were near the pit and down for normal operations.  A warning line that is as simple as cones and caution tape set up 6’ from the edge of the pit can prevent workers from getting too close to an opening.

  6. The first question that a worker needs to ask before they grab a ladder is “is it right for the job?”   For the worker doing the ceiling caulk which requires both hands removed from the ladder you know this is the wrong choice.  A ladder is great for a quick job where no more than one hand needs to come off the ladder such as a simple light bulb change.  But very often they are grabbed and treated like a scaffold without the safety scaffolds offer workers.  For tasks that workers need both hands to perform use a work platform like a mobile scaffold (baker’s rack/scissorlift) or a platform ladder like the Gorilla Work Platform Ladder.  Train employees on the safe use of ladders during a 15 minute Toolbox Talk and discuss proper setup, 3 points of contact, not rushing any movement, electrical lines, and clearing the area around them in case of a fall.

  7. Most importantly as seen in fatality 7 emphasize to workers that a fall from any height can be deadly.

I have heard numerous excuses from workers as to why they did not utilize fall protection for a task that could have easily ended their lives.  As a safety professional I tell them that it is required by law and our employers and we must utilize the equipment and follow the rules.  As a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister and a friend I tell them it’s what I would do for my family and to live a long injury-free life.

Topics: General Industry H&S, Construction H&S, H&S Training

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