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Industry Leaders Speak Up on Workplace Injuries

Photos: Courtesy of the Department of Labor

As one of the most common causes of workplace fatality and injury, both employers and employees need to understand the strategies for fall prevention. Here, the industry’s top leaders speak up on best practices.

It’s no surprise that fall-related injuries hit the construction industry the hardest. While OSHA standards lay out the precautions, it’s the employers that have to learn and enforce best practices. “Fall prevention has been the leading cause of death in construction for years. The numbers go up, the numbers go down but it consistently stays as the biggest problem,” said Dean McKenzie, Directorate of Construction at OSHA. “One of the challenges that we have in construction that general industry does not face quite as much is that it’s a very transient and high turnover industry,” says McKenzie, stressing the importance of consistent safety training. “There’s always new blood.”

What leads to injury?

One of the biggest factors influencing workplace safety is the rush. “Everybody wants their roof done for the lowest price, so contractors try to see how efficiently they can do it,” he explains, but in the process, its the crew members who get pushed further and further. “Sometimes there’s a perception that properly utilizing fall protection takes longer. But what we’ve learned from the contractors that have indeed established strict protection programs, the crews become faster,” he explains. When the workers feel and are safe, they’re of course more comfortable completing the work.

“In 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which was the first national safety law,” McKenzie cites. That law has set up a few universal standards, for example anything over 6 feet requires you to be protected from falls — by a guardrail, or safety net, for example.

McKenzie also discusses the role of technology in construction, which has changed the work, but hasn’t improved fall-prevention. “What we have seen is tremendous advances in the equipment that is available,” he says. “It’s just a matter of employers finding what works best for the work they do, what system to utilize for their operation.”

Build a checklist

“Falls can unfortunately happen when you least expect it, so we are trying to help people understand that they should plan for it,” says Christine Branche, Principal Associate Director of NIOSH and the Director of the Office of Construction Safety and Health.

Consulting Services Director of the National Safety Council, Dr. Wes Scott outlines some of the basic steps employers should take to prevent workplace injuries. The first step is to not only provide, but encourage, use of the right equipment. Next up: training on how to use that equipment. Along the way, the employers and crew leaders should be good models of workplace safety and speak up when they notice behaviors that are against safety

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