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How do we stop construction falls?

November 7, 2012
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constructionOne construction worker a day dies on a worksite from a fall. One a day. That’s what the national data consistently tells us, since one-third of all deaths on construction sites are from falls. Every year more than 10,000 construction workers in the private construction industry experience serious, even life-changing, injuries from a fall. These deaths and injuries happen to workers in an industry that makes up just 8 percent of the U.S. workforce yet experiences 22 percent of all workplace fatalities.

Safety and health professionals, academics, and government officials — perhaps you who are reading this — have worked tirelessly to make a dent in these tragic statistics. Thankfully, a dent has been made, as we see injuries trending downward. Yet fatality rates remain stubbornly, and unacceptably, high. It was time to do something different. It was time for a national campaign to reduce (even bring an end to) the No. 1 killer of construction workers — falls.

The campaign is the result of the dedicated members of the NORA Construction Sector Council, a group of construction industry stakeholders assembled by NIOSH to help shape the safety and health research agenda for the U.S. construction industry. Not surprisingly, falls were identified by the Council as a priority, and it was agreed that a national campaign to do something about construction falls was warranted.

At the NORA Sector Council’s suggestion, representatives of NIOSH, labor unions, and our organization, CPWR — The Center for Construction Research and Training, joined with OSHA and began meeting together to plan this national campaign. Individual members of the NORA Sector Council joined in via specialized committees, devoting time for hour-long conference calls and reviewing materials to support the efforts. Despite their schedules and on-going responsibilities, these busy professionals saw the value — and potential impact — of the campaign to commit their efforts to the cause. Eventually, an experienced social marketing firm was hired by CPWR to run focus groups of contractors and construction workers to make sure core fall prevention materials of the campaign would have an impact.

All the work came to fruition on April 26 of this year, two days before Workers Memorial Day, when Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, OSHA head David Michaels and NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard announced the launch of a multi-year campaign to raise awareness and provide contractors and workers with information to prevent falls.

The campaign’s main message of “Plan. Provide. Train.” is focused squarely at contractors. A key audience for this campaign is small contractors, particularly residential contractors. Contractors are being asked to …

· PLAN ahead to get the job done safely.

· PROVIDE the right equipment.

· TRAIN everyone to use the equipment safely.

The campaign’s website, www.StopConstructionFalls.com, should be the first stop for those who seek quality materials like toolbox talks, handouts, training materials and more. Visitors will have access to an ever-increasing amount of fall prevention information.

The Stop Construction Falls website is not alone in promoting the campaign, although it is the major outlet for fall prevention resources and information. NIOSH offers a campaign overview and links at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/construction/stopfalls.html. As with the popular OSHA Heat Stress campaign last summer, the www.osha.gov site sports a web banner with the campaign’s logo that takes visitors to space dedicated to the campaign. OSHA is also providing campaign posters, hardhat stickers, and a brief, illustration-heavy brochure on safe and not-so-safe work practices on rooftops, scaffolds and ladders.

Safety and health professionals who don’t want to stand on the sidelines while this national campaign moves along can suit up and join us in the campaign to save lives. Participants can join at any level that fits their needs, from using campaign materials for training to promoting the campaign by linking their website to www.StopConstructionFalls.com. For those who want to more fully engage, there are more opportunities listed on the site.

Of course, CPWR is interested in hearing what you think. If you have ideas for the campaign or simply want to respond to what you saw on the Stop Construction Falls website, please email us at falls@cpwr.com. We welcome participation by those willing to move the message along that we know can save lives: Plan. Provide. Train.

This column was provided by CPWR — The Center for Construction Research and Training, the research and training arm of the BCTD. CPWR’s research is made possible through a cooperative agreement with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH (OH009762). The contents of this column are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIOSH.

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