"Safety first!" It's an easy mantra, but too often, too many in the construction industry fail to live up to that standard. Construction industry safety expert Matt Murphy says one of the biggest issues–and the biggest reason for OSHA violation citations–is fall protection.
Q: Describe the problem of jobsite injuries due to a lack of proper fall protection.
Murphy: Falls account for a little over 39% of all fatalities in construction. [In terms of] pure work comp figures, in 2008, falls to same level accounted for $4.4 billion in claims here in the United States. Falls to a lower level accounted for $3.6 billion dollars. In 2013, falls to same level skyrocketed in cost to $8.6 billion dollars in claims to the industry. Falls to lower levels went up to $4.9 billion.
Q: Why is fall protection the No. 1 OSHA Citation in Construction?
Murphy:Not only is it the No. 1 citation, it’s also the number one cause of death. In fact, the 'fatal four' [falls, struck by an object, caught in/between, and electrocution] make up a majority of all fatalities in construction. Beyond that, the removal of the interim fall protection standards for residential construction and the lack of knowledge about fall protection have kept it in the No. 1 spot for some time.
Q: What are some of the most common fall-protection violations that you have seen on job sites?
Murphy: Where do I start? Simply not having any fall protection; not guarding fall hazards properly–floor holes skylights, improper guard rails; increasing work height using buckets, etc.; working in lifts without fall protection; working on scaffolds without fall protection; working off ladders unsafely; poor housekeeping; working off job-built surfaces that don’t meet safety standards; tying off with the wrong equipment (i.e. using the standard 6-foot shock absorbing lanyard without 18.5 feet of free fall) … the list goes on.
Q:What can employers do to ensure that employees follow all proper procedures?
Murphy: Use hazard analysis, a fancy term for "look at what you are about to do and ask yourself 'what can hurt or kill me?’" Then ask "how can I go about this without injury or killing myself?" and apply that remedy. A good portion [of hazard analysis] is a good education. Understand that all fall protection systems have limitations, what those limitations are, and what currently is on the market to provide fall protection. Not to mention, understand what OSHA says in its fall protection standards and that you need to train all of your workers on the hazards associated. Look at [this] work comp loss index from Liberty Mutual. More costly accidents occur at the same level, meaning a simple trip or slip and fall. OSHA is a minimum set of standards and waiting for the 6-foot trigger height to kick in gives a false sense of security. The "oh I can stand on a bucket, no one dies from falling off a bucket" [mentality] is often a fatal mistake. You really need to understand that fall hazards can happen to you, and plan accordingly. At the end of the day, no one wants to get hurt or killed at work, but the thought of getting the job done sometimes turns off the common sense switch in the brain and overrides that little voice that puts you on high alert. This is called complacency, and complacency can get you killed. I often use in my training the question "Who has climbed the old shaky wooden ladder?" "Did anyone fall?" No. "Why? Because you were scared to death that you would fall, so you paid 100% attention to the fact that it was unstable." If we take a poll of workers who have fallen off a ladder, most would say they had a solid ladder but leaned it, or didn't secure it, or it didn't reach the higher level. Again, complacency and the interest in getting the job done overrode common sense.
Q. How important is establishing a culture of safety in ensuring that employees follow all proper procedures?
Murphy: First off, everyone has a safety culture. You may not like your safety culture because often you are so good at getting the job done fast, that outranks your personal sense of safety. But those companies that have a good safety culture know that safety has to be No.1. That doesn't mean having to slow down or sacrifice quality. Some of my most successful clients pre-plan tasks, do hazard analysis, and [as a result] see their jobs get done safer and quicker. Why? Because by looking ahead on a daily basis, they can figure out the problems before they run into them. By pre-planning, they can equip themselves to handle the problem. They don't have to stop and figure it out later. They can work in a safe and efficient manner, and not only do they make a profit from getting the job done on time, but they don't have to go back and do it again because they rushed through and screwed something up. And, because they were safe, their EMR's are creeping down, making them more competitive due to their lower worker comp premiums than their competition.
Matt Murphy is owner of SEE, Inc., a safety consulting company based in the Maryland-Virginia-D.C area. He is a regular speaker at National Conferences including World of
Concrete and International Builders Show, a certified instructor for the Mason Contractors of America and serves on several industry safety committees. Hear more from him when he presents "OSHA's Top 10 Citations and How to Avoid Them" at the 2015 World of Concrete. Register for World of Concrete 2015 and sign up for [MO141] OSHA’s Top 10 Citations and How to Avoid Them, and other Safety & Risk Management seminars.