It’s a contractor’s worst nightmare. An employee is working at height, slips or trips, and falls to the ground.
Falls are the leading cause of death in the United States construction industry, accounting for a third of all fatalities (or 291) in 2013 alone, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But that is 291 too many. These deaths are preventable.
If you own or operate a construction company or work as a general contractor, you likely know how critical fall prevention is to the safety of your workers and the financial well-being of your business. Costs associated with even minor falls can add up. The National Council on Compensation Insurance, which tracks workers’ comp claims in 36 states, found that from 2005-2007, workers’ comp claims for roofers who fell from elevations averaged $54 million a year, according to an OSHA report. If you add in falls from ladders and scaffolds, that’s another $19 million a year. And that’s just roofers — carpenter falls were another $157 million yearly.
But workers’ comp costs aren’t the only expenses to fret over. OSHA is also stepping up enforcement for violations. Since most construction deaths stem from safety violations, OSHA is understandably focused on eliminating them. As we explain in “Your Guide to OSHA’s Construction Safety Regulations,” a fine for a violation that causes an injury but not a death (what OSHA defines as an “other than serious” violation) is $7,000. Willful violations — those that risk employee health or safety — can incur fines up to $70,000. In the tragic event that an employee’s life is lost, violations become criminal offenses and can carry fines of up to half a million dollars.
If you can prevent falls at your worksite, you’re not just doing the right thing, you’re also saving yourself from a huge financial risk. What’s the solution? Here’s a rundown of three essentials:
Know what causes falls
Start with the top factors contributing to falls at construction sites — can you rattle them off from memory? OSHA identifies four primary causes and provides advice on how to mitigate the risk:
- Unprotected sides, wall openings, and floor holes
The fix: Use guardrails and cover any holes as soon as they’re created.
- Improper scaffold construction
The fix: Build scaffolds according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and install guardrails on all open ends and sides.
- Unguarded, protruding rebar
The fix: Cap all rebar or bend the ends over so employees can’t trip on them.
- Misuse of portable ladders
The fix: Position ladders so the sides extend at least three feet above the landing, and don’t overload the ladder with more weight than it can support.
Hold a safety stand-down
StopConstructionFalls.com (a project of OSHA, state labor departments, and industry) also recommends holding a safety stand-down, or a talk where everyone on the jobsite stops working to discuss fall safety and prevention. The 2015 National Safety Stand-Down to prevent falls has passed, but you don’t have to wait until 2016 to hold your own. Here’s a list of suggestions to prepare for one, including reviewing your current fall prevention program, identifying areas that need improvement, and even serving snacks to your workers during the stand-down itself (hey, every little bit helps).
Make use of mobile
Beyond these tips, however, there is another tool that can increase safety and prevent falls, and you likely have one in your pocket right now.
Your mobile phone can be a powerful tool. With GoCanvas, hundreds of mobile safety apps and checklists for construction crews are at your fingertips with the touch of one simple app. And if you need a checklist or any other type of form customized to fit your needs, you can create it yourself in just a few simple steps (or email it to us and we’ll do the work for you).
A checklist may seem basic, but it can be a life-saving tool. Airline pilots use checklists — some that are hundreds of pages long — because they’re effective. Atul Gawande, the surgeon and author, introduced a “safe surgery checklist” at eight hospitals as an experiment. Just by introducing a checklist, those hospitals lowered deaths for surgical patients by 47 percent.
How does that work? As Gawande says, it’s not that checklists are needed because people are scatterbrained; it’s because modern-day work has gotten so complex that even intelligent people need help keeping track of everything.
So, where do you start? GoCanvas has dozens of checklists just for ladder and scaffold safety, as well as rebar inspection guides — take a look at the forms, make any adjustments to fit your specific needs, and then use GoCanvas to convert the checklists to apps.
By using mobile versus a paper form, the information is always at workers’ fingertips. And once your employee completes the checklist/inspection, that data is stored in the cloud and is accessible 24/7. No more hunting through piles of paper to find proof that you conducted a safety check on a certain day. When an OSHA inspector shows up, you’ll have all of your records accessible with just a few swipes.
Mobile can do that and more. At GoCanvas, we have converted hundreds of construction safety forms into apps that allow you and your workers to access and complete forms on a mobile device, and then email them to a supervisor or main office. Every completed form app is automatically stored in your GoCanvas account, and can be searched for and printed if an OSHA inspector shows up. Try some of our existing apps, or create your own from your paper forms and say goodbye to piles of paperwork — all with our free trial.