Even as the construction industry continues its recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also continues to focus on worker safety. Consistent with this focus, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) scheduled the eighth annual “National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction” event for May 3-7, 2021. OSHA encouraged construction employers and other stakeholders to join the event in order to promote awareness and training on how to better control fall-related hazards. If you did not participate last week, you can still hold a separate National Stand-Down event to emphasize employee safety on your work sites.
Initially, it does not take much effort for an employer to get ready to participate in an National Stand-Down event. Other than the time it takes to get the word out to worksites and to pull information about a fall prevention program together, there is little preparation necessary. An employer already has what it needs most: a fall prevention program. Helpfully, OSHA has also provided suggestions and additional resources on its website that an employer can use to prepare for a successful event. OSHA even provides links to resources, posters, handouts, and other potentially useful material.
During the National Stand-Down, an employer can focus communication on any of the many types of falls that can happen. These include falls:
- From ladders
- From a roof
- From a scaffold
- Down a set of stairs
- From structural steel
- Through a floor or roof opening
- Through a fragile roof surface
Of course, the talk should include more than discussion of the risks associated with these types of falls. It should also include discussion on how these falls can be prevented, i.e., the employer’s fall protection program, and any improvements to the program that might be considered.
An employer can promote the National Stand-Down with as much or as little fanfare as it wishes. As long as an employer is using the time to promote awareness of the risks associated with a fall and training employees on fall prevention, the employer’s event is “on the mark.” In fact, something as basic as a short, focused “Toolbox Talk” at each worksite should suffice. One note of potential importance: An employer should remember that requiring employees to participate in a National Stand-Down event (which it should do) likely makes the time compensable, i.e., an employee likely must be paid for the time.
Finally, although there is little, if any, downside to an employer holding an independent event, employers should recognize that there is a potentially huge upside: The additional education/training may help improve the safety of employees on its worksite. Remember, as far as the “hurt factor” goes, the potential risk of injury associated with a fall from a height is very high. When an employee is injured from a fall, the injury can be catastrophic. Tragically, almost 40% of annual recorded construction fatalities happen as the result of a fall. If a National Stand-Down event prevents even one such incident, that would be a great return on a small investment.