The United States ranks third among industrialized countries in construction fatalities per 100,000 workers. And jobsite falls continue to be the greatest causes of injuries and fatalities for construction workers.
A 200-pound person falling from a height of only six feet hits the ground with almost 10,000 pounds of force. Falls led to 197 of the 595 construction deaths recorded in 2012, according to CPWR-The Center for Construction Research and Training. Through the first quarter of 2013, falls caused 37 of 95 recorded construction fatalities. One of those was Steven Klafke, an employee working on the second floor of a residential home in Mequon, Wis., who fell to the lower level while dissembling a scaffolding.
This month, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which funds CPWR, kicked off a national campaign to inform businesses and workers about how they can prevent jobsite falls and injuries. The campaign’s tagline is “Safety Pays. Falls Cost.”
The new campaign differs from what NIOSH initiated a year ago, when it relied primarily on social media and email blasts. When that proved to be less effective than intended, NIOSH expanded the campaign’s outreach to municipalities’ planning and development departments, trade associations, and publications like BUILDER, says Dr. Christine Branche, NIOSH’s Principal Associate Director.
More to the point, the campaign was designed with input from a wide range of government, labor, industry, and academic partners such as NAHB, the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, Department of Workplace Standards; the National Safety Council, unions representing electrical, masonry, steel metal, and roofing workers; and the Virginia Tech Center for Innovation in Construction Safety and Health.
Its website, stopconstructionfalls.com, provides safety training materials for ladders, scaffolds, and roofs. The website includes an 11-minute video that features first-person accounts by workers who were injured by construction falls, as well as contractors who endorse safety procedures. There’s a particular emphasis on ladder safety, such as always checking the ladder’s duty rating to determine its height and load capacities. (Over the past decade, the number of people who died from ladder falls has tripled.)
The video notes that worker’s compensation rarely comes close to covering the losses of income and medical expenses that result from fall-related injuries and fatalities.
Branche acknowledges that fall protection has been a contentious issue for the construction industry. Roofing contractors complained loudly when OSHA issued its latest fall-protection regulations, which went into effect in March, claiming those regs made it harder for roofers to use slide guards, which are considered the simplest and least-expensive preventive measure.
Branche thinks that by having labor organizations as partners, and by removing the “onus” of regulation in its message, NIOSH’s campaign will find more contractors and construction businesses receptive. In fact, while this campaign aims primarily at residential contractors and foremen, it has achieved some “resonance” with heavy construction pros, she says.
The next step, says Branche, will be to try to get building materials dealers and distributors involved in disseminating the campaign’s message through their stores and lumberyards to their contractor customers.
John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder.