The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) recently released its Top 10 list of safety violations for 2021. This list includes the most-cited safety issues by OSHA. I always study the list and compare it to prior years.
What do you see when you look at the annual Top 10 safety violation list? If you read the annual list, you will quickly notice the same dangerous violations seem to make the list every year. Some of the safety issues might move up-or-down a couple places. But, the same problems exist every year. And, one violation seems to take the top spot almost every single year.
What is the top safety violation year-after-year? Fall protection! In fact, fall protection has ranked number one for the last 11 straight years. In recent years, I’ve represented numerous workers who suffered disabling personal injuries in worksite falls from heights. I’ve also represented families who lost a loved one in a worksite fall. All of these tragedies had one thing in common — Management could have prevented the serious accident with a few simple safety procedures.
What is unique about the 2021 OSHA safety violation list? Respiratory violations are usually in the Top 10 on an annual basis. But, this year respiratory issues moved up to the second most-cited violation. With COVID, respiratory protection was a much more prominent issue. Keep in mind, OSHA has very limited resources. With few inspectors, the agency must focus its attention. I believe the pandemic required OSHA to focus resources on the safety of essential workers. It appears many of the respiratory violations involved the healthcare industry. Even in a pandemic involving extra safety concerns about respiratory issues and an airborne virus, fall protection violations still ranked number 1. That fact speaks volumes about the danger of falls from heights on our nation’s industrial and construction worksites.
What prevents companies from taking safety steps to protect workers? Nothing! With a few safety steps, most fatal worksite falls from heights could be prevented. The problem is known. The solutions are simple. The reason why companies refuse to act is also clear — Many companies are simply unwilling to pause production even briefly for the safety of workers.
Several years ago, I tried a serious construction site fall injury case here in Huntsville. The accident happened at a construction site on Redstone Arsenal. The construction company produced thousands of pages of documents during our case. These documents detailed daily production and all payments. The company even took the time to keep detailed weather forecast records down to the hour. Keep production moving at all costs! How many pages of documents discussed site specific safety? Exactly one! The fall that disabled my client could have easily been prevented by the company. That construction company cared so little for the safety of its people. It did nothing to prevent accidents.
In recent safety campaigns, OSHA has condensed fall protection into 3 simple steps. I’ve listed them below with some commentary from me:
- PLAN ahead to get the job done safely. In many of our prior cases involving serious fall-related injuries, any planning could have prevented the tragedy. One easy safety planning method is to conduct an activity hazard analysis prior to the work. What does that involve? It simply involves management looking at the task to be completed and the equipment to be used for it. By examining the task and equipment ahead of time, management can easily notice safety issues and take steps to prevent accidents.
- PROVIDE the right equipment. It’s not a fall-related case but a recent respiratory injury case I handled is a perfect example of this. In my recent case, the client suffered lung damage due to an exposure at work. The client’s lungs were scarred due to airborne contaminants at the factory. The company knew the exposure would occur — The contaminants were a byproduct of its regular manufacturing process. Yet, the company failed to provide proper respiratory gear. Instead, the company provided cheap, old gear which was inadequate.
- TRAIN everyone to use the equipment safely. Training is an issue in many of our construction site cases. Every day, companies tell workers to operate dangerous equipment with no training or instruction. Too many companies put workers in a dangerous situation. Then, after a serious accident occurs, it’s not unusual for the same company to try and blame the employee. I’ve heard it many times. The company argues the employee did not read the equipment manual, did not go through classes to become certified, or did not have a license to operate the equipment. The problem is that, almost every time, no manual was even with the equipment. Even if the equipment did have some safety instructions, management never provided training. Management was simply unwilling to pause production for worker safety.
How common are deadly worksite falls from heights? According to statistics, falls from heights are the number 1 cause of construction site deaths. According to some statistics, a full 42% of the deaths from 1982 through 2015 in the construction industry involved falls from heights. That’s huge. Almost half of all construction site accidental deaths occurred in falls! And, the majority of the workers killed in falls did not even have access to a fall arrest system.
According to medical experts, the chance of surviving a fall from 30 feet is extremely low. With that said, falls of even a few feet can be fatal. When not fatal, they can still cause chronic, disabling orthopedic and neurological injury. Over the years, I’ve actually had a couple clients surprisingly survive 30+ foot falls. These clients were hurt so badly they could no longer walk or function independently after their accidents. They required wheelchairs and help with activities of daily living from family members. In one case, I later inspected the Scottsboro facility where it occurred. I stood on the roof with my expert. It’s hard to imagine the distance involved!
Year-after-year, fall-related safety is the number 1 OSHA violation. Year-after-year, fall-related safety is the number 1 cause of construction site deaths. With just a few simple safety steps, this could change. Many deaths and disabling injuries could be prevented. We really have no excuse for continuing to put our working men and women at risk for serious falls.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps people across Alabama. Our cases include construction site accidents and injuries. We are serious personal injury lawyers who focus on serious cases. If you have questions about a legal issue, let us know. All our consultations are free and confidential. We are happy to provide the information you may need.