Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) shared an important but not untypical story last week about a Texas worker who was injured after he was denied safety equipment.
It’s not surprising that the most frequently sited workplace safety violation by OSHA is Fall Protection. Each year more than 100,000 injuries and deaths are attributable to work-related falls.
According to the National Safety Council, falls are one of the leading causes of deaths in the workplace. In addition to permanent injuries and lost lives caused by falls, businesses lose billions of dollars each year from significant increases in insurance premiums, workers’ compensation claims, product liability costs, and other related expenses.
As reported by the US Department of Labor, 302 out of 828 total deaths in construction in CY 2013 were from falls. Falls continue to be a leading cause of fatalities and serious injuries in construction as proper fall protection is not always equipped at sites. Employers must protect workers from falling off overhead platforms, elevated workstations or into holes in the floor and walls.
The worker in Texas had requested use of a safety harness. As described by OSHA, a temporary worker without fall protection on a roof later fell 12 feet through the roof. His fall resulted in his hospitalization with fractured arms and severe contusions.
An investigation by OSHA found that the employer waited three days to report the injury. Federal law requires employers to report such incidents within 24 hours.
OSHA fined the employer $362,500 for seven safety violations, including one willful and four willful egregious. The violations include failing to provide fall protection for four workers, failure to promptly report the hospitalization of an employee resulting from a workplace incident, and not training employees in the use of fall protection and ladders. The citations are available here*.
On-the-job injuries cost employers nearly $1 billion per week in payments to injured employees and their medical care providers, according to Liberty Mutual, the leading private provider of workers’ compensation insurance in the United States.
So with all of the statistics on violations, injuries and deaths, not to mention the associated costs, is it surprising that on any given day, a visit to any job site in the country will unveil fall protection equipment being used that is potentially dangerous because of wear, neglect, misuse or age/exposure? Recently, many shock-absorbing lanyards from various manufacturers were removed from job sites for safety qualification, and 85% of the product samples failed standard safety tests (in accordance with ANSI Standards).
OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry and eight feet in long shoring operations. In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance. Employers must set up the work place to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated work stations or into holes in the floor and walls.
To prevent employees from being injured from falls, employers must:
Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk (using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover).
Provide a guard rail and toe-board around every elevated open sided platform, floor or runway.
Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto dangerous machines or equipment (such as a vat or acid or a conveyor belt) employers must provide guardrails and toe-boards to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
Other means of fall protection that may be required on certain jobs include safety and harness and line, safety nets, stair railings and hand rails.
OSHA requires employers to:
Provide working conditions that are free of known dangers.
Keep floors in work areas in a clean and, so far as possible, a dry condition.
Select and provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers.
Train workers about job hazards in a language that they can understand.
Falls can be prevented when workers understand proper set-up and safe use of equipment, so they need training on the specific equipment they will use to complete the job. Employers must train workers in hazard recognition and in the care and safe use ladders, scaffolds, fall protection systems, and other equipment they'll be using on the job.
OSHA has provided numerous materials and resources that employers can use during toolbox talks to train workers on safe practices to avoid falls in construction. Falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs can be prevented and lives can be saved by simply planning, providing the right equipment and training workers on the proper use of the equipment.
Arbill EH&S professionals can help assess your locations for workplace hazards and help you protect your workers. To learn more about how you can protect your workers from falls, and other serious workplace hazards, contact us or visit our website.
Have a safe day!