In this video, Jim discusses the challenges related to managing fall hazards on construction sites. He shows statistics related to injuries from falls from heights and discusses trip and fall hazards.
- Let's talk about falls in construction or more specifically, the different types of hazards on a construction site that create a risk for falling and getting injured. When we talk about fall hazards, we can really divide the discussion up into two parts: Trip and hazards, and hazards that pose a risk of falling from heights. Let's talk about trip and fall hazards first. I feel like many times we don't talk much about trip and fall hazards on construction sites.
I mean after all, don't we have bigger things to worry about? I don't know, let's think about it for a second. If I string a power cord or two across a walkway or I don't take the time to secure a temporary stair tread that's loose or warped, or I don't take the time to stop and pick up some debris that's scattered around. Odds are, no one's going to trip over it today, right? And even more, if someone does trip, odds are they're probably just going to stumble and they aren't going to get seriously injured, right? Yes, these things are probably true.
Odds are these things are not going to cause a serious injury today. But another phrase for playing the odds is that you're gambling. And anyone that's ever gambled before will certainly tell you that no matter what, even when the odds are in your favor, you are eventually going to lose. And that's what you need to keep in mind when you look at something that's a trip hazard and you find yourself thinking, odds are that it'll be fine today. The problem when you gamble with safety is that it only takes one time and you don't know when that one time will happen, whether it's going to be you or a coworker, whether it'll just be a little stumble or if it's going to be somebody who's carrying something that falls and twists their back.
You know of all the serious injuries we talk about, those one time shocking incidents we always read about, it's really those back injuries that make up the biggest portion of insurance claims related to on-the-job work injuries. You really need to think about this concept of playing the odds when you're looking around the job site and remember that your personal well-being and the well-being of your coworkers is not the right thing to be gambling with. Okay let's move on to falls from heights. Working at heights is always an ever-present hazard on construction sites.
We work on multistory buildings, we have work that needs to be done on the roof of the building that we're constructing, we build bridges that span over roads and rivers. And any time we're working on above the ground, there's a risk of falling. And the interesting thing here is that when we talk about the risk of falling, a lot of us tend to think about those conditions where we're working way up in the air. But in reality, many of the falls that result in serious injuries or even in fatalities actually occur from a relatively short distance off the ground.
If we look at some of those statistics here in the United States, we see that fatal falls from ladders actually account for almost a quarter of all of our deaths from falls in construction. Now sticking with those ladders, over 15% of these fatal falls from ladders were from a height of 10 feet or less and more than half of these fatal falls were from heights under 20 feet. So we're not that high up in the air. What do we do to protect ourselves and our coworkers from these hazards related to working at heights? Well, really the issue of fall protection can easily take up an entire class all on its own.
And the answers also really tend to be site-specific. But at the core, it comes down to a couple of things. Number one, you need to recognize when people need to be protected. In other words, just how high off the ground do you need to be before you protect people? Now I'm going to say that there are no hard and fast rules here but there are some standards or regulations that specify when you need to take action. And being aware of these standards or the trigger heights for fall protection are a good first step in analyzing when you need a fall protection plan.
In the United States, we have this set of national regulations established by OSHA, the government entity that I mentioned earlier. And these rules generally set six feet as the trigger height for requiring fall protection when you're working on a construction site. In other words, once you're near an edge that's six feet from the ground, you need fall protection. Now of course, there are lots of exceptions to this six foot rule. For example, if you're working are scaffolding, guardrails aren't actually required until you reach a height of 10 feet.
And if you're a trained structural steel ironworker, you may not be required to have fall protection until a height of 15 feet or even higher if you're connecting beams and columns. And there are actually no hard and fast regulations requiring fall protections on most portable ladders at all. Does that mean that there's no hazard when you're doing something like working on a sign or caulking windows from a ladder 20 feet up the side of a building? No of course not. Just because there's no specific regulation doesn't make it safe.
Remember this is construction. Our sites and conditions change every day and that brings me to the second point on fall protection. You need a competent person to evaluate the site-specific conditions and make a plan. We spend a lot of plan in the construction industry. I spend a lot of time as a consultant and a trainer, teaching employees when they need guardrails and what the requirement for those guardrails are. We teach them how to use personal fall arrest systems that consist of one of those harnesses, a tether, and an anchor point.
And on some sites, we talk about using safety nets as a means of fall protection. But the bottom line is that conditions vary and many times the hazards presented at one site are not going to be the same as the hazards we encountered on the last site. That's the reason that the most important component of any fall protection plan is a proper evaluation by a competent person, a person that not only recognizes those trigger heights I discussed, but someone who understands the work that will need to be done and will incorporate all of those work conditions and requirements into a plan that will protect people when they're working up there at heights.
We overlook this far too often in construction. Quite often, we train our employees about fall protection regulations and how to use the different components and pieces of those fall protection systems, but we forget that this doesn't necessary make them qualified to pick the overall system and the pieces and parts that are right for any one given situation. So please, don't overlook the importance of that competent person working to come up with a proper fall protection plan.
In fact, this is so important that we'll discuss it in more depth a little bit later. For now, let's move away from falling and we'll move on to the hazards that might be above us.
Throughout this course, Jim highlights some of the most notable safety and health hazards in the industry—including fall hazards, traffic accidents, and respiratory hazards—and shares strategies for integrating safety, quality, and productivity. He also explains how to leverage technological advancements such as digital drawings to help your team work safer and smarter.
- Recognizing health hazards in the industry
- Integrating safety, quality, and productivity
- Creating a culture of learning
- Recognizing leading indicators
- Using digital solutions to improve safety
- Using BIM to identify hazards early