Falls: A Leading Cause of Death

One of the leading causes of death for construction workers (paint professionals included) is falls from elevated surfaces, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2016, these accidents accounted for more than 30 percent of all construction fatalities. The top four causes of worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the private sector construction industry are:

  • falls: 384 (38.7%);
  • struck by object: 93 (9.4 percent);
  • electrocutions: 82 (8.3 percent); and
  • caught-in/between:1 72 (7.3 percent).

One of the most common — and costly — causes of claims occur when construction workers fall from elevated surfaces. These accidents represent more than 30 percent of all construction claim payments. To help employers reduce these injuries — and ultimately run a more profitable and productive business contractors can provide safety awareness and training to their construction workers.

The training initiative supports a national campaign called “Stand-down to Prevent Falls in Construction,” which is sponsored each year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The campaign encourages fall prevention training, 10-hour OSHA training sessions and additional construction safety training.

  • Why are falls from elevated surfaces so costly?
  • Injuries related to falls from elevated surfaces are more severe because these accidents result in:
  • more time away from work than other injury claims;
  • damage to multiple body parts; and
  • short- and long-term disability leave.
  • How can construction companies keep their workers safe?

Encourage managers to communicate regularly with employees about common safety hazards and the importance of conducting safety assessments when a job requires work on elevated surfaces. Construction companies should implement the following three workplace safety measures:

develop written policies and plans to reduce the use of ladders and make other safe options readily available, such as the Ladder-Alternative Job Sites program;

  • regularly inspect equipment and repair/replace as needed; and
  • train workers to properly use and inspect mobile scaffolding and lifts.
  • What can construction workers do to stay safe on elevated surfaces?

Managers should have regular conversations with employees who often work on elevated surfaces about implementing best practices for safe work habits. Instead of relying on ladders, they should encourage construction workers to use:

  • mobile scaffolds, scissor lifts or other elevated work platforms that are equipped with guardrails and additional protective gear;
  • rope, pulleys, block and tackle or other appropriate material-handling aids to lift materials onto elevated surfaces; and
  • podium stepladders, whenever possible, instead of standard A-frame stepladders.
  • Falls from elevated surfaces can be reduced or even eliminated by providing companies with the right tools and resources to make jobsite safety a priority and support workers’ safety through proper hazard assessments and training.
  • 1 This category includes construction workers killed when caught in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structure, equipment or material.

Written by Mark McGhiey – Associate Vice President of Loss Control Services, Nationwide

Mark McGhiey, CSP, CFPS, is the associate vice president of Nationwide’s Loss Control Services, which provides safety and risk management support to the company’s book of standard commercial business. Mark has more than 23 years of experience in the insurance industry. He is also a Certified Safety Professional and a Certified Fire Protection Specialist. Mark lives in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information, visit Nationwide’s blog, Loss Control Services site and OSHA’s Stand-Down campaign page.


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