Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a new initiative to conduct surprising safety inspections for fall risks. A day later, the agency announced a $ 32,113 fine for a construction company in Florida where a 19-year-old worker died after falling from a clubhouse roof.
The fines were far from unusual, but the compilation of the two announcements – July 11 and July 12, respectively – highlights an issue that security personnel and regulators have long called problematic: falls from heights are the leading cause of death for workers and danger is No. 1.–alleged infringement year after year; yet it is easy to detect and preventable.
Doug Parker, OSHA̵7;s Deputy Secretary of Labor, called the issue “frustrating” for all parties involved, while speaking at the American Society of Safety Professionals’ annual conference in Chicago on June 29.
OSHA issued 5,295 fall protection instructions in 2001, and it was the 11th year in a row that fall protection was the number 1 most frequently cited OSHA violation.
“About 50% of our inspections are under construction” and “about half of these inspections… have identified a risk of collapse,” Parker said. “I can not come up with a rule or danger where (there are) so many deaths and so much non-compliance.”
In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that falls from heights led to 351 of the 1,008 deaths among construction workers, or about one-third of construction-related deaths.
Failure to use fall protection equipment is among the most “visible” workplace safety violations, according to John Ho, a labor and employment lawyer and chairman of Cozen O’Connor PC’s OSHA practice in New York. “If you have people working on a building and an OSHA inspector drives by, or even a member of the public or another employee sees it, this is very visible,” he said.
According to experts, the scene is common: a worker, at a height, not protected by the use of a harness or other equipment. What gives?
This is an issue addressed by Silver Springs, Maryland-based Center for Construction Research and Training, which examines the construction industry to understand why fall protection methods are so lax. Jessica Bunting, who leads the organization’s campaign to prevent falls in construction, said some initial reports have provided insight.
She said that one of the most important results was that the corporate culture often decided whether a worker should use fall protection equipment.
“After hearing from contractors and others and saying, ‘you know, we provide everything, but then employees do not use fall protection’ (we discovered) that it really depends on the employer,” she said.
The survey revealed that “when employees believed that their company’s fall protection policy was strongly associated with the use of fall protection and they believed that fall protection was required, they were eight times more likely to use fall protection than those who did not believe it was required,” Bunting said.
At the same time, Mr. Ho that some employers often state in defense of quotes that employees’ misconduct led to the disappearance of security. “Someone takes a shortcut.… They do not really think about (fall protection); but they have all the equipment provided. For some reason it was not used and sometimes people are not properly trained in how to use it. And if they use it then they abuse. they do it. ”
Jessica Martinez, Los Angeles-based co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, said investigations must go beyond the behavior of an individual worker.
Loss in fall protection protocols usually reflects a system failure, she said.
“Let us assume that the worker is injured or killed when he falls from a height, and assume that an investigation shows that the worker was not wearing a seat belt at the time. If we are to blame the worker and focus on the worker’s behavior, then the reason he “or she was injured or killed because he or she failed to carry the safety equipment. The case is closed, right? But that’s completely wrong.”
An investigation “must investigate why dangerous conditions occurred,” she said.
“Why is it that the worker who was commissioned to work at height did not wear his seat belt? Did the employer provide the seat belt and provide training on how to properly assemble and use the seat belt? Did the employers inspect the workplace and ensure that seat belts are available?”