The National Safety Stand-Down: Why Falls Remain a Deadly Problem in the Construction Sector and What We Can Do About ItPosted on by
Standing on rooftops and rebar are facts of life in the construction industry, but fatal falls from these heights do not have to be. In the United States each year, 10,000 construction workers are seriously injured from falls at the worksite (1). In 2015 alone, 350 construction workers perished due to falls, accounting for nearly 40% of all construction sector fatalities (2). Perhaps not surprisingly, failure to meet OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard was the most common citation in that same year (1). Non-fatal falls can also cause serious injury. About 10,000 workers sustain injuries in nonfatal falls each year. Injured workers may require surgeries and hospitalizations and they may miss work time and lose pay. Additionally, workers’ families and communities are impacted when they are unable to work, to play with their children, or to help their aging parents.
Hearing loss has been shown to be a risk factor for falls, where hearing deficits may diminish one’s awareness of their overall environment thus making falling and tripping more likely (4). Dangerous noise is common to construction sites, and one in four construction workers who are exposed to noise experience hearing loss (3). Because of the problem of hearing loss, this year it has been added to the construction falls prevention campaign, during which NIOSH, OSHA, and the NORA Construction Sector Council team up to take action. The construction falls prevention campaign, now in its sixth year, draws attention to fall protection and prevention in the United States. The fourth National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, which is linked to the campaign, will be May 8-12, 2017. This year’s efforts will include information on hearing protection.
The Stand-Down takes its cue from the military, in which operations stop, or “stand down,” when a critical safety problem is identified. The National Safety Stand-Down is a voluntary event in which employers stop work and meet with employees to discuss safety. Educational materials are available from CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training and other partners at www.stopconstructionfalls.com, and from OSHA, including OSHA’s fall prevention training (1). NIOSH’s ladder safety app and sound level meter app are available for free download. Additional relevant information is available on the NIOSH Falls in the Workplace Topic Page.
The audience for this effort is tremendous. Each year, 9.8 million Americans are employed in the construction sector, one of the most dangerous industries. Unfortunately, nearly half of all deaths on construction sites occur in companies with ten or fewer employees or among those who are self-employed (1). For this reason, a national campaign to reach employers and workers is necessary to raise awareness about life-altering and fatal injuries. Working with large corporations on safety policies is critical, but not sufficient. The campaign is designed to reach construction contractors of all sizes, and this year, special efforts are underway to work with insurance partners. Also, reaching Spanish-speaking contractors, supervisors and employees is always important (5), given that 30% of the construction workforce is Hispanic. Spanish-language materials, including videos are available. The campaign and Stand-Down are designed to address the broader construction community, including the workers and employers who are not part of larger organizational structures.
During the Stand-Down employers are encouraged to participate by planning ahead; training their employees in fall prevention, including the proper use of fall protection; using the free resources available; and providing fall protection where relevant. Workplace safety is an issue that affects us all, personally and economically. Let’s take a moment to Stand Down for safety in construction.
Alissa Zingman, M.D.; Christine M. Branche, Ph.D., FACE; CDR Elizabeth P. Garza, MPH, CPH
Alissa Zingman, MD, Occupational and Environmental Medicine Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, on rotation at NIOSH [February 2017].
Dr. Branche is Principal Associate Director and Director, Office of Construction Safety and Health.
CDR Garza is Assistant Coordinator for the Construction Sector in the NIOSH Office of Construction Safety and Health.
- CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training. Construction falls prevention campaign. http://stopconstructionfalls.com/. Accessed February 21, 2017.
- U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Commonly used statistics. https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html Accessed February 15, 2017.
- Masterson E., et al. Trends in Worker Hearing Loss by Industry Sector, 1981-2010. AJIM 2015;58:392–401.
- Lin F, Ferrucci L. Hearing Loss Linked to Three-Fold Risk of Falling. John Hopkins Medicine and National Institute of Aging http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_three_fold_risk_of_falling February 27, 2012, Web. 20 March 2017.
- NIOSH, ASSE . Overlapping vulnerabilities: the occupational safety and health of young workers in small construction firms. By Flynn MA, Cunningham TR, Guerin RJ, Keller B, Chapman LJ, Hudson D, Salgado C. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2015- 178.