Safety

Fall Protection for Everyone

While protection from falls is important for all construction workers, certain demographics may be statistically more susceptible to danger on the jobsite.
By Mark McGhiey
May 28, 2024
Topics
Safety

In the construction industry, safety lapses can have dire consequences. A recent incident on a multistory construction site underscores the critical need for rigorous safety protocols. An employee slipped and nearly fell from the top level during a routine task of disposing refuse into a trash chute. Fortunately, thanks to the company's recently enhanced fall-protection program, the worker's safety equipment prevented what could have been a fatal accident.

This incident is a stark reminder of the ongoing risks of falls in construction. Despite continuous efforts to improve safety, falls remain a leading cause of injury and death on jobsites, second only to vehicle accidents. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that more than 400 fall-related deaths occur annually, a distressing statistic that has remained consistent over the past decade.

New research also indicates that certain segments of the industry are at highest risk for falls on jobsites, including Hispanic workers and small construction firms with fewer than 10 employees.

DISPROPORTIONATE IMPACT

According to data from the BLS and the Center for Construction Research & Training, the issue of falls in construction disproportionately affects the Hispanic community, which makes up 34.2% of the construction workforce—nearly double their representation across all other sectors.

This community faces a significantly higher risk of injury or death on jobsites; in 2020, the fatality rate for Hispanic construction workers was 41.6% higher than that for their non-Hispanic counterparts, and the injury rate for Hispanics was 14.5% higher. Additionally, the fatality rate for Hispanic workers increased by 46.5% from 2018 to 2020, while at the same time decreasing for non-Hispanic workers.

These trends underscore the need for targeted safety interventions that consider the cultural and linguistic needs of diverse workforces. Ensuring that safety training and resources are accessible in multiple languages and culturally relevant formats is crucial. 

Nationwide is working with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to bring greater awareness to this issue for all contractors and with the Hispanic community specifically.

"As strong supporters and advocates of the construction industry, especially Hispanic construction companies and workers, it's crucial that we prioritize workforce safety,” said Synthia Jaramillo, senior vice president at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “The statistics paint a stark picture: falls continue to be a major threat, disproportionately affecting Hispanic workers. By fostering a robust safety culture, providing thorough training and utilizing safety and risk-management resources provided by carriers like Nationwide, we can prevent tragic accidents and create a safer environment for everyone involved."

SMALL BUSINESS. HIGH RISK.

The size of a business also has a significant influence on its vulnerability to falls. From 2011 to 2022, 70% of fatal construction falls occurred in businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

Larger businesses often have more formal fall-protection programs in place and the resources to dedicate to the issue. However, lack of awareness and access to resources may be a factor. Small businesses can find free resources to help them establish formal safety programs. Effective programs start with management and are cascaded down to supervisors and contractors to make safe decisions on the jobsite. CPWR’s research shows employees who believe fall protection is required by their employer are eight times more likely to use it.

CALL TO ACTION

The construction industry must continue to improve safety. Falls remain a major cause of fatalities, so it’s crucial for everyone—from business owners to workers—to actively enhance safety practices. Let’s create safer work environments by staying vigilant, training regularly and identifying hazards proactively.

Nationwide's interactive Fall Protection Guide is designed to walk through fall protection requirements, outline roles and responsibilities and provide turn-key solutions to document training, perform inspections and implement company/site-specific fall protection plans. The entire guide is also available in Spanish.

by Mark McGhiey
Mark McGhiey, CSP, CFPS, is the senior associate vice president of Nationwide’s Loss Control Services, which provides safety and risk management support to the company’s book of standard commercial business. Mark has more than 32 years of experience in the insurance industry. He is also a Certified Safety Professional and a Certified Fire Protection Specialist. Mark lives in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information, visit Nationwide’s blog, Loss Control Services site and OSHA’s Stand-Down campaign page

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