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23 January 2015

Construction Accidents: Preventing Ladder & Scaffolding Falls

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), three out of every five fatal injuries that occur in the construction industry are the result of only four types of accidents, which are known as the “fatal four” to many.

Not surprisingly, fall accidents are the most common of the fatal four construction accidents due to the often elevated working conditions. According to the most recent data, falls accounted for 294 out of 796 worker fatalities in the construction industry during 2013. In other words, 37% of fatalities that occurred in the construction industry were the result of a fall accident.

Two Common Accidents In The Construction Industry

Of all fall accidents in the construction industry, ladder and scaffolding falls tend to be the most common among workers. In this post we will examine the dangers involved in both ladder and scaffolding accidents, as well as discuss some preventative measures that can be taken to reduce these incidences.

Ladder Fall Accidents

The need for safer ladder use in the construction industry is clear. An estimated 81% of construction worker fall injuries that are treated in U.S. emergency departments involve a ladder. Defective ladders or ladders which have not been properly positioned or secured are often at the root of these accidents. Additionally, a lack of fall protection is an issue which can turn what may have been a severe fall injury into a lethal one.

Scaffolding Fall Accidents

It is estimated that over 2 million construction workers, or about 65% of the construction industry, work on scaffolds. Research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that 72% of workers injured in scaffold accidents attributed their accident one of three causes:

  • Planking or support giving way
  • Slipping / losing footing
  • Being hit by a falling object

Poorly designed or constructed scaffolding another one of the leading causes of scaffold falls. When scaffolding is not properly designed and/or constructed it can cause scaffolding to collapse under normal pressure. In addition to these hazards, lack of fall protection is another contributing factor to many fall accidents and can affect the severity of the injuries that are occur in many scaffolding falls.

How To Prevent Fall Accidents & Improve Workplace Safety

The elevated working conditions that are often present on construction sites present an additional danger to construction workers and make them much more susceptible to fall accidents than most workers. That being said, safety standards are in place to prevent these accidents and there is no excuse for fall accidents with today’s technology and safety standards. The question then arises: why are fall accidents still so common and how can one prevent these accidents?

Following OSHA Safety Standards

One of the fundamental efforts that needs to be made in order to improve workplace safety is a stricter adherence to OSHA safety standards, which are specifically meant to prevent workplace accidents in ever industry. Each year OSHA publishes a list of the top 10 safety standard violations in that they cite during workplace inspection. Ironically, the most commonly cited violation in 2014 was fall protection safety standards in the construction industry, followed by scaffolding and ladder standards, which ranked as the 3rd and 7th most cited violations.

Who Is Really Responsible For Construction Site Safety?

Typically, a contract will specify that many parties share in the responsibility of maintaining a safe working environment on construction sites. For example, a contractor will often be responsible for providing a safe working environment for its workers and all other subcontractors, while subcontractors will be responsible for certain safety standards that apply to their specific work. However, ultimately the overall safety of a construction site is the responsibility of everyone involved. That being said, it is the responsibility for each worker to contribute to this effort. If a worker feels that there is an unsafe situation, it is the responsibility of that worker to notify fellow workers of the hazard and report it to the appropriate manager.

Your Right To A Safe Workplace

Many times workers will not be supplied with the proper safety equipment to get the job done. When this happens, a construction worker should exercise his or her rights to a safe workplace under OSHA regulations. As employees in the private sector, construction workers have the right to:

  • Request a workplace inspection by OSHA;
  • Exercise their rights without employer retaliation or discrimination;
  • Receive information and training on workplace hazards, accident prevention, and OSHA standards that are specifically applicable to their workplace.
  • Obtain copies of test results conducted to find workplace hazards;
  • Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses;
  • Get copies of their medical records;

Ultimately, it is everyone’s responsibility to maintain a safe working environment on a construction site. That being said, we continue to see too many accidents, especially those involving falls from ladders and scaffolding. By adhering to OSHA standards we can hope to prevent future accidents and improve the safety for everyone.