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Construction Site Safety: Protecting Workers From Falls

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The construction of a new hotel in downtown Evansville has the community buzzing with excitement. The five-story tower of rooms for lodging and convention space has been highly anticipated, discussed, encouraged, and disparaged since the beginning, and now we're beginning to see the actual project taking shape. Like the construction of the adjacent Ford Center, the whole community will be watching the hotel project with great interest.

Large construction projects attract community interest due to their size and complexity, but it's not always easy to see the precautions that need to be taken in order to protect workers on the job. While we expect to see hardhats and steel-toed boots, there are other mandates for safety that aren't as readily apparent. One of these mandates is the need for fall protection.

Falls account for nearly 40% of fatalities in a construction zone; in 2014, there were 349 fatal falls in a construction zone - nearly one fatality per day. The next three leading causes of death in a construction zone pale in comparison: electrocution (8.5%), struck by object (8.4%), and caught in/between (1.4%). These "Fatal Four" account for more than 58% of deaths in a construction zone every year.

Types of Falls

The most common areas of danger contributing to falls on a construction site include:

  • Unprotected roof edges
  • Roof and floor openings
  • Structural steel
  • Leading edges (i.e., wall openings or roughed-in stairwells)
  • Improperly constructed scaffolding
  • Unsafe portable ladders

OSHA Standards for Fall Protection

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more commonly known as OSHA, sets forth standards in most workplaces and requires employers to follow certain guidelines to protect their workers. A large section of guidelines covers aspects of the construction industry, with particular attention focused on fall prevention. OSHA's standards include:

  • Guardrails should be in use for work areas six feet or more above lower levels
  • Top rail height for guardrails is 42" above the work/walk surface
  • Top rails should be able to withstand 200 lbs. of force outward or downward
  • Midrails should be in use at a height of 21" between the top rail and walk/work surface
  • Midrails should be able to withstand 150 lbs. of force outward or downward

The Purpose of OSHA's Standards

OSHA's fall protection standards are designed to protect workers from fall hazards while on the jobsite. Employers are required to adhere to the criteria and practices for fall protection systems and to require training in the proper use of these systems. OSHA standards serve to standardize workplace safety and cover areas such as hazard assessment, fall protection, and safety monitoring systems; workers are not permitted to work on a jobsite until all walk/work surfaces have been determined to be structurally safe and sound. If a fall hazard is present on the jobsite, the employer is required to address this hazard through the use of fall prevention systems (i.e., guardrails) and/or fall arrest systems (i.e., safety harnesses/nets). The employer must also train workers in the use of these systems.

We're Here to Help

A fall at a construction site can be devastating - some injured workers can find themselves unable to work for weeks, months, or even years. Others may lose their lives due to a fall, leaving their families to try and cope with a heartbreaking loss. If you have been injured in a fall on a construction site, seeking the advice of an attorney experienced in construction law will help you to receive the justice you deserve. Your attorney will examine the circumstances surrounding the fall and determine the best way to proceed in building your case. If your employer failed to provide the required protection or necessary training, you may be eligible for compensation. Don't let a workplace fall ruin your ability to provide for your family -contact Gerling Law today!

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