Falls are among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. Fatalities caused by falls from elevation continue to be a leading cause of death for construction employees, accounting for 351 of the 1,008 construction fatalities recorded in 2020 (BLS data), which is why OSHA holds the National Safety Stand Down to Prevent Falls in Construction every year. This year, the stand down is May 2-6.
In 2020, 805 workers died in falls, and 211,640 were injured badly enough to require days off of work. Workers don’t have to fall from a high level to suffer fatal injuries; 136 workers were killed in falls on the same level in 2020, according to Injury Facts from the National Safety Council.
Falls, work-related and otherwise, are a leading cause of death and severe injury around the world. An estimated 684,000 fatal falls occur each year, making it the second leading cause of unintentional injury death, after road traffic injuries. These numbers include falls from height and same-level falls.
In fact, falls on the same level are an overlooked hazard, says Scott Gaddis, VP, Health and Safety, Intelex. “Preventing pedestrian accidents in the workplace has long been challenging. OSHA estimates that over 200,000 fall injuries occur each year with a robust number of these occurring at the walking-working surface. Working alongside a wide range of material handling equipment, traveling across ill-prepared work surfaces and dealing with elements like weather, congestion and poor illumination can be hazardous,” notes Gaddis, who is giving a presentation on the topic at the Kentucky Governor’s Safety and Health Conference, which will be held May 9-12, 2022 in Bowling Green, KY.
Gaddis wrote extensively about the topic in his report, Walking Working Surfaces and Pedestrian Safety. In the report, Gaddis reflects on the fact that in 2017, OSHA published changes to the standards related to walking-working surfaces and personal fall protection systems to better protect workers in general industry from these types of hazards and the dangers posed to the pedestrian worker. The final rule has updated and clarified standards and added worker training and equipment inspections as required steps in risk mitigation.
“While I believe the updated changes focus on falls from heights, falls to the same level and to the working surface itself are part of the control expectations,” writes Gaddis.
The regulatory language used in the final rule is “performance-based,” he added, meaning there’s more room for employers to select the equipment and controls that will be most effective in the workplace. “Simply put, it requires the knowledge of the employer to perform to the intent of the rule.”
According to Gaddis, pedestrian safety and how the worker navigates his or her walking-working environment requires a complete understanding of risks, the level of risk posed to the worker and the controls warranted that provide better safety.
Intelex offers several resources related to fall protection, including the Walking-Working Surface Inspection Checklist, a companion piece to Gaddis’ article, as well as Don’t Get Tripped Up by Fall Hazards: A Fall Protection Checklist