In construction work, dangers come from all corners: powerful equipment, heavy machinery, electrical hazards and, of course, heights. Gravity is the single biggest peril construction workers face. Whether you regularly work at high elevations – for example, as a roofer or sheet metal worker – or only do so for occasional jobs, it’s important to be proactive about fall protection.
Here are three things that every construction worker should know about working at heights:
1. Falls happen more often than you might think.
In fact, they’re the No. 1 cause of death in the construction industry. According to an in-depth analysis of accident data from the last 30 years, falls account for nearly half of all construction fatalities.
Who’s most at risk? Not surprisingly, those who spend the most time at great heights typically have higher rates of falls. Victims are often between the ages of 45 and 54 – an age range when they’re still physically able to do the work but perhaps not as spritely as younger colleagues. Research also suggests that falls are more prevalent at smaller construction companies. Larger companies generally have more resources to devote to fall protection measures and safety training. They’re more likely to follow formal safety protocols and have safety specialists on staff. Struggling to stay afloat, smaller companies may be tempted to cut corners.
2. You don’t have to fall far to suffer serious injuries (or death).
At least 1 in 3 falls involve heights of 15 feet or less. Yet they can still cause lasting harm, including:
- Back injuries
- Neck injuries
- Head trauma
- Nerve damage
Depending on the type and severity of the injury, recovery might entail multiple surgeries and ongoing rehabilitation. Victims are sometimes left permanently disabled, unable to return to work.
3. Employers don’t always make safety a priority.
As a construction worker, it’s easy to focus on the job at hand. Your employer, the site owner, general contractor or others in charge are supposed to be responsible for safety measures. Yet you can’t always count on them to make safety a priority.
From 1982 to 2015, more than half of fall fatality victims didn’t have personal fall arrest systems, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training. Another quarter did have them but weren’t using them – perhaps reflecting inadequate training or instruction. And insufficient fall protection is consistently the most common safety violation cited by OSHA.
Don’t leave your safety in the hands of others. Stay well-informed on how to protect yourself from falls, and if you encounter a suspected safety issue, report it. You can’t lose your job for doing so. You could lose your life, however, if you forge ahead into a dangerous situation without adequate fall protection.