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Creating a Safer Construction Site: Actionable Steps to Help Prevent Fall Fatalities

Wed May 08, 2019 - National Edition
George Cesarini, Chubb Construction


Construction is an inherently risky industry. Workers often find themselves climbing on ladders and/or scaffolding, performing demanding physical labor, using a variety of tools and equipment, and enduring a wide range of sometimes difficult environmental conditions — heat, rain, etc. — which can lead to an unfortunate recipe for potential injury. Fortunately, over the past several years, attention to safety on the job site has gone hand-in-hand with technological advancements to help improve workplace safety in the construction industry.

While this progress has been invaluable in reducing injuries, Safety Week serves as a reminder to our industry to continue striving toward reducing the number of accidents and eliminating casualties, especially when it comes to fall protection. Fall fatality rates are still alarmingly high in the construction industry. In fact, 19 percent of all worker fatalities in the United States in 2017 were in the construction industry (971 out of 5,147), and among those 971 fatalities, 39 percent (381) were fall-related.

Here are some steps organizations can consider to help reduce fall fatality risks, no matter the project's size or scope:

Step One: Increase Awareness and Understanding

Leadership and labor personnel may not realize how common fall-related fatalities are and that there are measures they can take to do something about it. Safety is everyone's responsibility, and every single person who touches a construction site — physically or metaphorically — should be educated about his/her role in promoting a safer workplace.

Leaders should instill safety as a core value throughout the organization and safe workplace practices should be not only encouraged, but also expected, during daily work. It is management's responsibility to identify and evaluate potential risks before work begins. If a risk cannot be eliminated, it is management's job to help mitigate potential dangers through the implementation of both advanced safety training and the use of protective devices and procedures.

By the same token, workers are responsible — and should be held accountable — for complying with safety protocol. They should speak-up if the task they are assigned has the potential to expose them to serious injury, is not adequately planned to mitigate the exposure, and/or if inadequate safety training is provided, and should be empowered and encouraged to do so by management.

Step Two: Anticipate Risks by Performing a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA)

Safety practices should be defined ahead of any construction project. Leaders should map out the different intended project phases and identify where fall-related hazards could occur. Leaders should then work with field managers and designated safety teams to minimize exposures wherever possible or determine which safety measures are needed to sufficiently mitigate risk.

A Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) should be performed and should include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • A detailed description or overview of the work taking place
  • A list of the equipment needed to perform this work
  • A list of the different tasks that need to be performed in order to complete the project
  • The identification and evaluation of potential fall-related and other safety exposures for each task to be completed, and
  • A determination of measures that will be taken to eliminate or reduce the exposures for each task.

Once the JHA is complete, all parties involved must sign a form documenting their participation and understanding of the risks and preventative measures. To this end, contractors should hold pre-task meetings to be attended by all crew members and make sure that language barriers are addressed, as applicable.

If a construction project's duration exceeds a single day, a daily pre- and post-work review of hazards and protective measures is necessary. This is especially true if new workers are added to a project after the JHA takes place and if working conditions have changed since the project's onset.

Step Three: From Training to Protective Devices, Implement Protective Measures

Workers should be properly trained before construction begins. In addition to reviewing the results of the JHA prior to beginning work, workers should be instructed on how to properly inspect and use Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS). Additionally, field supervisors should ensure that workers are complying with safety protocol throughout the process and should intervene to correct any risky behavior.

If a construction site has been equipped with leading edge protection such as guardrails, they shouldn't be taken down without explicit direction from the controlling contractor. To prevent any confusion around who is responsible for providing and removing such safety features, organizations should implement a permit system that dictates how and when worksite guardrails can be installed or removed.

In the same vein, fall management plans should include training on the proper selection, set up and use of ladders and scaffolds.

The Ultimate Goal: Zero Injuries

When a construction company effectively fosters a strong safety culture, safety becomes a priority for every employee. Safety practices not only save lives — they also promote healthy businesses. A safety-first culture is one of a business's most valuable assets and can play a role in its long-term growth and success. Safer companies tend to face fewer losses, have lower costs, are usually more competitive bidders and can be more attractive to potential clients and insurers.

The number one goal is minimizing injury and saving lives — and that means always being vigilant and adaptive. The construction industry is constantly evolving and adopting new equipment and machinery. Safety practices must evolve alongside these developments and continue to align with the various ways in which workers are performing their jobs.

At the end of the day, every company — every leader, safety manager, contractor, employee — wants all parties to go home safely. That's why fall protection and other risk mitigation techniques are key to workplace safety culture — so we can realize making a goal of zero injuries on the jobsite a reality.

George Cesarini is a senior vice president of Chubb Construction Major Markets. He is responsible for managing the risk engineering services provided across the country to construction clients, ensuring quality and value-added services are being delivered to assist them in their efforts to enhance their safety culture and mitigate potential exposures on their project sites.

This document is advisory in nature and is offered as a resource to be used together with your professional insurance advisors in maintaining a loss prevention program. It is an overview only, and is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your insurance broker, or for legal, engineering or other professional advice.