Preventing falls at work is not that tricky or expensive. But as a recent report from FairWarning points out, the problem of worker falls has never been worse, judging from Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
In 2017, the most recent year of data available, 887 workers died from falls.
That was more than 40 percent of the job-related deaths in the construction industry and over 17 percent of job-related deaths in America. Aside from transportation accidents, nothing kills more American workers than falls.
A public awareness campaign launched by federal agencies and supported by industry trade groups has tried to education employees and mobilize employers. A million workers were trained, and the statistical results are not yet in.
Intervention yielding mixed results
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can both investigate and punish violators of federal safety rules. But some of OSHA’s actions against companies whose workers die in falls have met with criticism.
Some observers say too many have resulted in companies getting off easy with very light fines for confidential reasons or even complete dismissal for technicalities.
In the meantime, worker training and management education have had difficulties reaching smaller construction companies and contractors.
Such companies often have lax safety standards, worker shortages, and many foreign-born workers unable or reluctant to contact government agencies. Such small companies contribute disproportionately to fall fatalities.
After the fall
Some workers who suffer falls on the job survive these life-changing events, as the FairWarning report discusses. Recovery can often be slow, and survivors often suffer both physically and emotionally.
The role of survivors is important.
Like those who are dying of these falls in record numbers, survivors have rights. But survivors can fight to try to make employers and their insurers live up to their obligations to past, present and future employees.