Title: Falls Continue to be the #1 Killer at Construction Sites & Result in Significant Fines & Penalties for Employers

 

The Skinny:

According to statistics recently released by OSHA, more construction workers were killed by falls in the last 12 months than by any other safety hazard.  This includes both residential and commercial construction. Sadly, this has been the norm in construction for many years, and the root cause continues to be a lack of appropriate training, awareness, written preventative programs, and use of approved fall protection equipment by workers and their employers.

As a result, Fall Protection remained the #1 violation type cited by OSHA in 2013 to construction employers.  Fall protection is required for any situation in which a worker is elevated 6’ or more above ground level. Keep in mind that fall protection citations typically carry a mandatory Serious Violation designation, and sometimes a Willful designation, which result in fines adding up to $tens of thousands and sometimes even $hundreds of thousands of dollars for offending employers (see detailed explanation and actual example below).

And finally, General Contractors must remember that they can also be cited for their subcontractor’s fall protection non compliance, due to OSHA’s “Controlling Employer on Multi Employer” job sites rule. And this rule also exposes GC’s to additional liability in the form of potential civil lawsuits from injured or killed subcontractor employees and their families, and these judgments can easily run into the $millions.

As you can see, the dangers from falls and associated regulatory and civil liabilities pose major challenges and risks to construction workers & their employers and therefore demand their immediate attention and action.  What can be done to minimize and manage these risks?

In This Issue:

How Likely Are Austin Area Construction Companies To Get Inspected & Fined by OSHA for Fall Protection Violations? (Including how fines are calculated & example of an actual OSHA fall protection fine)

Construction Fall Statistics & Causes

What Does OSHA Require of Employers to Manage & Minimize Fall Hazards?

 

The Details:

 How Likely Is Your Company To Get Inspected & Fined by OSHA?

The chances of getting inspected and fined by OSHA for fall protection violations are only getting worse.  Here’s why….

  •  OSHA recently reported that 32% of all construction fatalities in Texas between August 15th 2012 and August 15th 2013 were caused by falls, making falls the #1 killer in Texas construction during this period.  As a result, OSHA continues to maintain focus on enforcement efforts in this area and here are some statistics that demonstrate that fact:
    • 32 workers were killed by falls in Texas during this period (coincidentally the same % were killed by falls, see above).
    • 3 of these deaths occurred in the Austin region.
    • OSHA cited 641 instances of fall protection violations in Texas during this time period (and 8,241 violations nationally)
    • There were 27 instances of fall protection violations in the Austin region during this time period.
    • Overall OSHA construction enforcement statistics:
      • OSHA issues fines in up to 90% of their construction inspections.
      • 60% of all OSHA inspections are construction related.
      • 20% of all of these inspections are triggered by employee complaints (this can include GC or subcontractor employees, as well as current and even past employees that have been fired or laid off).  OSHA is mandated to respond to ALL employee complaints.

How are Fines Calculated and Example of an actual OSHA fine due to fall protection violations:

Fall protection violations typically carry a Serious Violation designation with a mandatory $4,000-$7000 fine per violation, but can also result in a Willful Violation designation if OSHA can prove that the employer was aware of the hazard but failed to take action to correct it (Willful violations can carry fines up to $70,000 per violation!).  Employers must also understand that OSHA can issue multiple fall protection related violations during a single inspection if they observe, for example, 3 employees not wearing fall protection, and lack of a written fall protection program.  In this example 4 violations x $4,000-$7,0000 per Serious Violation for a total fine of $16,000-$28,000, or more if they can prove that any were Willful in nature.  And not only that, but OSHA can add more fines for other non related violations that can add up to higher and higher fines.

Actual Example:

Roofing contractor fined nearly $250,000 for egregious fall hazards

OSHA fined roofing contractor Lessard Brothers Construction Inc. $243,360 for egregious willful, serious and repeat violations following OSHA’s inspection of a Lewiston, Maine, worksite. OSHA previously cited Lessard Brothers, and its predecessor Lessard Roofing & Siding Inc., 10 times for fall protection violations at Maine worksites.

Lessard employees were exposed to potentially life-threatening falls of 23 feet while working without fall protection on a steep-pitched roof. Due to the company’s knowledge of the hazard, along with its extensive history of OSHA violations, inspectors issued Lessard four egregious willful citations for the lack of fall protection. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. In addition to the egregious willful citations, OSHA issued Lessard two serious citations for an electrical hazard and for failing to train workers on electrical hazards and fall protection. The company was also issued one repeat citation for lack of hard hat protection. This significant enforcement action qualifies Lessard Brothers Construction Inc. for OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. See the news release for more information.

 

Fall Fatality Statistics & Causes:

  • OSHA historical statistics indicate that on average 1/3 (34%) of all construction related fatalities are caused by falls.
  • How and where do these fatal falls occur?
    • 1/3 are from roofs
    • 18% from scaffolding
    • 16% from ladders
    • 8% from girders and structural steel
    • 25% were through existing floor openings, from non-moving vehicles, aerial lifts, etc.

What are the leading causes of falls?

(From an OSHA training document)

1). Unprotected roof edges, roof/floor openings, structural steel & leading edges:

Almost all sites have unprotected sides and edges, wall openings, or floor holes at some point during construction. If these sides and openings are not protected at your site, injuries from falls or falling objects may result, ranging from sprains and concussions to death.

Falls to a lower level are a major cause of fatalities in construction. Factors such as improperly covered or protected floor holes and openings are a common fall hazard. It‘s easy to step into a hole or opening when carrying something that blocks one’s forward view.

Roofing falls are the leading cause of roofing injuries and fatalities. Roofing, siding and sheet metal work have the highest rate of occupational injuries and illnesses for a non-manufacturing industry. One of the most frequently cited serious OSHA violations involving roofing and fall protection is unprotected sides and edges.

2). Improper scaffold construction:

Working with heavy equipment and building materials on the limited space of a scaffold is difficult. Without fall protection or safe access, it becomes hazardous. Falls from improperly constructed scaffolds can result in injuries ranging from sprains to death. Guardrails or personal fall arrest systems for fall prevention/protection are required for workers on platforms 10 feet or higher. The majority of the workers injured in scaffold accidents attribute the accident to factors like the planking or support giving way, or to lack of guardrails or other fall protection. OSHA’s most frequently cited serious scaffold violations include lack of fall protection; scaffold access; use of aerial lifts without body belts and lanyards, platform construction and no worker training.

3). Unsafe portable ladders:

You risk falling if a portable ladder is not safely positioned each time you use one. While you are on a ladder, it may move and slip from its supports. You can also lose your balance while getting on or off an unsteady ladder. Falls from ladders can cause injuries ranging from sprains to death. BLS data show that falls from ladders account for over 100 fatalities each year. Factors that contribute to falls from ladders are ladder slip (top or bottom), overreaching, slipping on rungs/steps, defective equipment and improper ladder selection for a given task. Frequently cited OSHA ladder violations include not having a portable ladder extend 3 feet above the landing, no worker training, and improper use of the top of stepladders.

What Does OSHA Require of Employers to Protect Their Workers?:

  • Provide fall protection equipment and/or personal protective equipment
  • Ensure proper scaffold construction
  • Ensure safe ladder use and condition
  • Conduct worksite maintenance & inspections
  • Must have written fall protection program and maintenance of that program
  • Must provide employee training

Learn more about fall protection equipment and training requirements below:

(From an OSHA training guide)

 Use fall protection equipment

The three generally acceptable methods of protection for workers on a construction site who are exposed to vertical drops of 6 feet or more are guardrails, safety net systems and personal fall arrest systems.

  • Guardrails are considered prevention systems, as they stop you from having a fall in the first place.
  • Safety net systems are designed to catch you and break your fall. They must be placed as close as practicable under your working surface, but never more than 30 feet below.
  • A personal fall arrest system consists of an anchorage, connectors, and a full-body harness that work together to break your fall.

In general, it is better to use fall prevention systems, such as guardrails, than fall protection systems, such as safety nets/fall arrest devices, because prevention systems provide more positive safety means.

Scaffold work requires guardrails or a personal fall arrest system on any platform 10 feet or higher. Also, do not climb cross-bracing as a means of access; safe access must be provided by your employer. Ensure that your fall protection equipment is right for the work you are doing, in good condition, and that you use it properly. Remember that your employer needs to provide you with protection to prevent falls at your worksite.

 

Training Requirements

Employers must provide training if employees are exposed to fall hazards. The training program

must train employees to recognize the hazards of falling and explain the procedures to be followed in order to minimize fall hazards. Employees must also be trained before working on scaffolds and when working with ladders.

Fall Protection Guidelines for Workers

1. Employees must understand your company’s written fall protection plan.

2. Attend and participate in fall prevention training.

3. Use fall protection equipment if required for the job. Be sure the equipment is right for the task, fits properly and is in good condition.

4. Inspect fall protection equipment and devices before each use.

5. Make sure that floor holes, open shafts and riser penetrations are protected by sturdy guardrails or covers.

6. Get specialized training before working on scaffolds, lifts or ladders.

7. When using scaffolds, make sure there is proper access, full planking, stable footing and guard railing.

Learn more employer mandated details at OSHA’s website:

https://www.osha.gov/dte/outreach/construction/focus_four/index.html

 

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