How to Prevent Falls at a Construction Site
Construction can be a dangerous profession. The use of power tools and heavy machinery can cause severe damage, even death, if not handled properly. The most prominent danger construction workers face, however, is falling.
In the U.S., falls account for more than 300 deaths each year in construction. They are the leading cause of construction worker fatalities. On top of that, more than 10,000 employees are seriously injured by falls.
Most construction staff don’t work at extreme heights, but they can still be at risk. Even falls from shorter distances can be fatal.
Falls can happen for several reasons, including:
- Inexperienced or improperly trained workers
- Overloading ladders or scaffolds
- Improper equipment
- Working in extreme weather
- Lack of fall protection
No matter what the specifics are, all construction falls have one thing in common— they are preventable. If employers and workers alike work to ensure proper training, planning, equipment and behavior, they can save lives.
The first step in fall prevention is training. People are likely to get hurt if they don’t know how to work safely. Employees should be up-to-date on OSHA requirements as well as the safety procedures of their companies.
All workers should know how to set up their equipment and use it correctly. If they work on ladders, they should know to set them up securely, including how to maintain at least three points of contact while working and climbing. Employees on scaffolds should know how to install guardrails and to follow load limits.
If someone works on roofs, they should know to wear a harness and how to inspect it. Workers should train on how to install anchors and lifelines.
If any changes occur, such as the introduction of new equipment or moving to a more hazardous jobsite, workers should retrain. The same goes for if safety guidelines get updated. All employees need to be up-to-date on current standards.
A lack of planning can lead to any number of dangerous mistakes. Before a construction job begins, project managers should thoroughly inspect the worksite. Inspections should include taking note of uneven surfaces, tripping risks, electrical hazards and excessive noise.
With all these potential dangers in mind, leaders should plan the job accordingly. They must decide what tools and equipment are needed not just to finish the job, but to work safely within the given environment.
When budgeting for a job, employers should take safety equipment into account. Meeting basic legal requirements may not be enough. Responsible managers should account for special equipment needed for any location-specific hazards.
Construction crews should be ready for any emergency that might happen. Emergencies can be anything from equipment failure to extreme weather. Organizations should have a plan in place and educate all employees on their roles. Unforeseen situations do arise, so all workers should be equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to work around them.
If workers do not have the right tools for the job, they can be at risk. Many jobsite falls are due to issues with equipment. These problems may be due to faulty equipment or something as simple as materials not matching the project at hand.
When scaffolds are needed, project managers should ensure they select the right equipment for height and weight requirements. If the scaffolding is too short, workers may attempt to climb on the guardrails or place a ladder on top, leading to a higher risk of falling. Mismatched weight capacities could lead to collapse. Similar issues apply to ladders, as well.
Apart from the tools needed to do their jobs properly, workers should have all the necessary safety equipment. All employees should wear helmets, and those at heights should have fall protection, such as harnesses and guardrails.
Even experienced workers risk falling with improper or insufficient equipment. Before use, a competent employee should check all gear to make sure it’s in working order.
Safe, appropriate equipment and well-inspected job sites, although critical, are all but useless if workers don’t practice smart, safe routines. Employees should follow OSHA construction safety standards at all times. It may be beneficial to have other protocols in place too.
Going above and beyond the minimum legal requirements will further ensure safety. While these regulations do help a great deal, asking more of employees will leave less room for mistakes. Additional procedures may seem redundant, but you can’t be too careful with lives at risk.
Safety measures are also pointless if no one enforces them. An accountability system can help make sure workers are behaving safely. Managers can look for specific risky actions and call out dangerous behavior when they see it.
Preventing Falls at Construction Sites — What to Know
People don’t have to fall far to get severely injured. Taking the time and effort to reduce risks is necessary to potentially save the lives of hundreds of construction employees.