AIHCE: Preventing Falls by Design

"There's an 85 percent chance of death if a worker falls 11 feet or more," Mike Wright, P.E., CSP, LBJ Inc., told attendees at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exhibition (AIHce) in San Diego.

He pointed out that falls are the number one cause of construction fatalities and, surprisingly to some, a leading cause of fatalities in general industry. During his presentation, "Fall Protection: New and Improved," Wright warned general industry employers not to be complacent about the threat of fall injuries.

Not only are general industry employees exposed to potential fall injuries on a routine basis (climbing ladders to change light bulbs, walking along roof edges, running up and down stairs), but general industry worksites often have construction projects and if an employee of one of the contractors on the project falls and is injured, it's possible the site owner or manager could be cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or sued by the employee or his or her family for providing an unsafe workplace.

In the case of a third-party lawsuit, said Wright, "The host employer includes the general industry employer as well as the general [construction] contractor. Workers' comp protects the injured or killed worker's employer," he noted. "But the general industry employer could be sued in a third-party lawsuit."

Wright said the hierarchy of control for fall protection was, in order:

  • Eliminate the need to climb.
  • Introduce engineering controls such as guardrails.
  • Use personal protective equipment.

He said the four techniques used to improve fall safety are safety by design, meaning that buildings are built with fall protection in mind; the hierarchy of control, risk assessment; and for host employers, having standard policies for contractors that require appropriate fall prevention methods.

Wright suggests incorporating fall protection policies and procedures into the bid process, the design of the building and into construction activities.

He told attendees that a client worked out the difference in the cost factor relating to when fall protection is introduced into a project:

  • Incorporating fall protection into the conceptual design = factor 1
  • Incorporating fall protection into the final drawings = a factor of 10
  • Incorporating fall protection as part of field modifications = a factor of 100
  • Incorporating fall protection as part of start-up and debugging operations = a factor of 1,000
  • Incorporating fall protection once a facility up and running = a protection factor of 10,000

"Incorporating fall protection once an employee has been killed costs 10,000 times what it would cost at the design stage," said Wright.

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