A summer weekend is a good time to do some gardening or finally fix those broken roof tiles. But before you start climbing, take a moment to think about your safety. Over 36,000 people fell to their deaths in 2017 and almost 8.6 million—more people than the population of New York City – suffered fall-related injuries. This makes falling the third most common preventable injury-related death in the US.
Light rain was falling that February morning in Washington State as three coworkers prepared for their third day of installing a roof on a two-story house. One of the team, a man with 20 years of experience under his belt, climbed up to get started. A few moments later, as his calls were met by silence, the team supervisor went looking for his colleague, only to find him lying unconscious on a concrete patio. The 50-year-old victim passed away in the ambulance—his unused rope grab lifeline still attached to a roof anchor.
This man was experienced. He had only been gone for a few minutes. This preliminary narrative, published by the Washington State Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program, underlines how quickly a tragic accident can happen, even on a day that looks like any other.
Much to Be Done at Work
The overall fall statistics are scary and they remain so even if we only look at workplace accidents. In 2017, 713 workers passed away and 47,180 suffered injuries after falling from a higher to a lower level. More than half of those who died were working in construction and extraction occupations.
Because of the risks, construction workers should use fall protection whenever they work at 6 feet or more above a lower level, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. For workers in general industry, the limit is set at 4 feet. However, having access to a personal fall arrest system or other safety equipment is one thing. Knowing how to use it is another. Managers should make sure workers receive the proper training.
Going up and down ladders quickly might seem like a solution when you are in a hurry. But taking a few extra seconds to inspect your ladder and ensure you set it up correctly might be what saves you from the hospital bed, or worse, the cemetery. Make sure that the rungs are clean and in good condition, that the ladder has anti-slip feet, and, if you are working with electrical equipment, pick a ladder made from wood or fiberglass, not aluminum. When setting up your ladder, verify it stands on a solid and level surface, that it extends above the landing, and secure it at the top for safety and convenience.
Keep Your Employees Safe at Work with These eLearning Courses:
Fixing the Trip-Traps
While falling from heights seems like an obvious danger, slipping or tripping on level ground can also result in injuries such as fractures, lacerations, twisted ankles and head trauma. Even the quick, jerking movements you do to prevent yourself from falling over—the ones that remind you of comedy classics—can harm your back.
In fact, taking a fall without the impact of elevation ranks number two after overexertion as a preventable workplace injury that forces employees to take time away from work. In 2017, 151 workers died and 142,770 reported injuries after such tripping or slipping, with the transportation and materials moving sector ranking high on the fatality list.
The good news is that it is neither difficult, time-consuming, nor expensive to make your workplace safer. The easiest starting point is housekeeping. Remove obstructions, sweep away gravel and clean up liquids as soon as you spot them. Tape cords to the ground and pick up your tools. Place warning signs where necessary and pay attention to them. And for office workers everywhere: close your file drawers and save yourself some grunting and cursing later in the day.
Adjusting how you walk and work is another easy measure. Walk, don’t run. Hold the hand railing when you climb stairs and don’t carry so much that you cannot see where you are going.
Modifications at a small but worthwhile cost include making sure all employees have safe footwear, which meet industry slip-resistance standards, and adding mats that are absorbent or have holes for collecting fluids and debris at entrances or around machinery. Considering that falls cost some 70 billion dollars annually in the US, according to a 2002 National Safety Council estimate, it might pay off.
The above tips for avoiding these types of accidents come from Driver’s Alert’s eLearning course Slips, Trips, Falls.
About the Author
Eva Nyman grew up in Finland, but has lived in Belgium, France and Hungary. She holds a degree in journalism and communication from the University of Helsinki and has worked as a reporter for ten years. She feeds her fascination with history and current affairs with books and her love of nature with hikes. She’s passionate about traveling, particularly slow journeys, and her dream is to visit every corner of the world.