Falling Short: Construction Must Prioritize Worker Safety

How to protect your workers—and your wallet—from falls and fall claims.
By Mark McGhiey
May 3, 2023

A building boom across the United States, particularly in nonresidential projects, has many construction firms and contractors concerned about the availability of workers. To keep up with demand, some contractors have resorted to lowering their hiring standards. But in one of the most perilous professions in America, these actions could have serious implications for the safety of workers.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows construction and extraction occupations had the second most occupational deaths in 2021—the most recent data available—at a rate of 12.3 fatalities for every 100,000 workers. Falls continue to be a leading cause of construction deaths and injuries on jobsites, with more than 300 fall-related deaths each year and thousands of serious injuries. Despite increased awareness and stringent regulations, these incidents continue to disrupt workers’ lives and livelihoods, as well as businesses’ abilities to operate.

There has not been a notable reduction in construction fall-related deaths or injuries over the past 10 years, but these accidents are mainly preventable. Increased focus, education and training are vital to combatting these hazards in the construction industry.


It’s critical that construction employers pay close attention to the experience level of workers. Nationwide claims data show construction workers with less than two years of experience with a company account for more than half (53%) of all reported construction fall claims since 2020. This underscores the importance for builders to ensure all workers, and especially those new to their company, are properly trained and equipped with the necessary safety gear to prevent such accidents from occurring.

This issue isn’t just about complying with regulations. It’s about protecting the lives of our workforce and ensuring their well-being on the job.


In addition to the human cost of falls on jobsites, there is a significant financial burden that companies must bear. Across all industries, the average workers’ compensation claim cost in 2022 rose by 15% over 2021, Nationwide’s data reveals.

A variety of factors are driving up workers’ compensation costs in the industry, including the high-risk nature of construction and increasing health-care costs. The costs of employee falls not only impact a company's bottom line but can also result in increased insurance premiums and damage to a company's reputation.


To prevent falls and mitigate the risk of safety incidents, companies must prioritize safety in all aspects of their operations. This includes providing workers with proper training and equipment, conducting regular safety inspections and implementing safety protocols and procedures that align with regulatory requirements. By creating a work environment that prioritizes safety, construction companies can reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring and improve their overall safety record.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 10th annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction takes place from May 1-5, 2023. This is a good time for construction safety leaders to lead toolbox talks, conduct safety equipment inspections, discuss job-specific hazards or conduct other safety activities to draw attention to the life-changing dangers of falls on jobsites.

For construction businesses and the broader industry, Nationwide has developed an interactive Fall Protection Guide to help address these underlying causes of falls and reduce their frequency. The guide is designed to help understand the critical roles, responsibilities and best practices for hazard analysis and review the various types of fall protection and rescue planning needed to create a general fall protection program as well as a site-specific program.

In order to reduce falls in construction, organizations need to commit at all levels. Any construction business, whether a Nationwide member or not, can leverage the Interactive Fall Protection Guide to not only comply with basic fall protection requirements, but also to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce hazards across their company and jobsites.

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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