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Study Finds Falls Still Killing Too Many Construction Workers

Tuesday, Jun. 26th 2018

By: Eric T. Chaffin

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently published a new study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. According to the study, falls remain a persistent cause of work-related injuries and deaths, with the construction and oil and gas industries remaining the most dangerous.

Study Finds Falls Remain a Major Killer at the Workplace

Researchers used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, and the BLS Current Population Survey to determine the number of falls that occurred in work settings between 2003 and 2014. They found that falls remain the second leading cause of work-related fatalities among U.S. workers.

More specifically, there were a total of 8,880 fatal work-related falls during the study period. Rates of falls increased with worker age, with the highest death rate among workers age 65 and older. Occupations with the highest rates included construction and oil and gas extraction, and installation/maintenance/repair. Hispanic workers were also more at risk, having the highest rate of fatal falls compared to white (non-Hispanic) workers.

The researchers concluded that falls are a persistent source of work-related fatalities, and that companies need to continue working on prevention through design, and on improving fall protection and training.

During the week of May 7-11, 2018, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and NIOSH partnered with state consultation programs and training organizations to once again raise awareness of fall hazards across the country. During that week, employers were encouraged to talk directly to employees about safety and to take a break to focus on fall hazards and fall prevention.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that falls are the number-one cause of construction-worker fatalities, accounting for one-third of the job deaths in the industry. OSHA states that since the stand-down campaign began, millions of workers have participated, with events taking place in all 50 states.

Employers Are Responsible for Implementing Safety Systems

OSHA has identified the “fatal four” in the construction industry—the four causes of fatal construction accidents. These include:

  1. Falls
  2. Struck-by-object
  3. Electrocution
  4. Caught-in/between

These fatal four were responsible for more than half (63.7%) of construction worker deaths in 2016, according to the BLS. OSHA states that eliminating the fatal four would save 631 workers’ lives in America every year.

OSHA also notes that companies often violate safety standards meant to protect employees from these hazards. Employees are supposed to put into place fall-protection systems, for example, including guardrail systems, safety net systems, and personal fall arrest systems. Employees are to be protected from falling through holes more than six feet above lower levels, and are also supposed to be protected when working at the edge of an excavation.

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