Fatal Workplace Falls
March 10, 2018
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one of the most frequently cited safety failures in the construction industry is fall protection. The reality is that falls account for approximately one-third of all construction fatalities, which indicates a serious need for a safety overhaul and increased enforcement.
Workers should never have to fear getting permanently or fatally injured as a result of an employer failing to meet federal safety standards. In late January, a New York City construction worker lost his life in a deadly fall down an elevator shaft. Even before the incident occurred, the worksite had already received numerous safety complaints indicating inadequate working conditions. Although the worker’s death is still being investigated, it’s known that he wasn’t connected to a safety line and fell nine stories. Employers know that working at elevated heights is particularly dangerous – and they need to take every possible step to prevent workers from getting injured or killed.
One of OSHA’s general rules is that anytime a worker is working at a height of 6 feet or greater above a lower level, an employer is legally responsible for providing fall protection. Although there are various types of fall protection, some of the most common kinds are:
- Personal fall arrest systems (such as a safety harness);
- Safety net systems;
- Positioning device systems;
- Travel restraint systems, and:
- Guardrail systems
It’s crucial that employers provide fall protection – when they don’t, they are knowingly putting workers in serious danger. Even though the general rule is that employers must provide fall protection for workers who are working at 6 feet or greater above a lower level, the rule also applies to certain situations that include heights under 6 feet. For example, OSHA requires employers to provide fall protection for heights less than 6 feet when workers are doing jobs above dangerous equipment. Some kinds of equipment that OSHA considers dangerous are:
- Open vats of acid or degreasing agents;
- Exposed gears, and:
- Machinery with open drive belts
You can learn more about an employer’s legal obligation to provide fall protection systems for workers in the construction industry (and others).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identified 370 fatal falls to lower levels in 2016 – all of which occurred in the construction industry. OSHA has been working on increasing fall prevention awareness in workplaces across the nation more steadily since 2012, and tries to educate employers on how the majority of falls are entirely preventable. According to OSHA, the best ways that employers can limit physically disabling or fatal workplace falls is to:
- Plan projects ahead of time to ensure that they are completed safely – and plan for the unexpected (like injuries). Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry;
- When estimating the cost of a job, be sure to include the costs of reliable and comprehensive safety equipment;
- Provide employers with the correct equipment (this can include the correct ladders, scaffolding, safety gear, personal fall arrest systems, harnesses, etc.), and:
- Make sure that everyone is trained properly. Workers need to know how to set up and safely use all equipment provided to them – and employers must train workers on how to recognize and report job hazards
OSHA and the Department of Labor & Industry (DOI) regularly cite and fine companies for safety failures that result in workers being exposed to serious workplace hazards, as well as enacting financial penalties in response to failures that result in injuries and fatalities. For example late last year, the DOI fined a Washington-based lumber mill after a 41-year-old worker fatally fell from an elevated platform. The DOI determined that the employer allowed caution tape to be used as a replacement for a removed section of guardrail along the elevated platform. The employer also failed to provide safety harnesses and other kinds of personal fall protection systems, all of which could’ve prevented the 41-year-old from unnecessarily losing his life.
Sadly, there’s nothing uncommon about safety failures in the workplace. And, there’s nothing uncommon about workers being hesitant to report safety concerns they observe, even though it is illegal for employers to retaliate against them. There are lots of laws that protect workers from workplace retaliation, as well as from being exposed to hazards and other known risks in the workplace. If you have any questions or concerns about safety hazards in your workplace, please contact a representative at our firm.
Allentown Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Individuals Injured at Work
If you were injured at work as a result of safety failures, please contact the Allentown Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.