More than 4,300 workers die each year from on-the-job accidents. Nearly 40% of these fatalities are caused by falls, making it the most common source of worker death, followed by being struck by objects, electrocutions and being caught in between objects. What’s more, among the top 10 OSHA workplace violations that are cited, three relate to falls from heights – fall protection, scaffolding and ladder violations – most common in the construction industry, under which the commercial painting sector falls.
In addition to fatalities, falls from heights are among the top 10 most common workplace injuries that can cost time off of work, result in worker’s compensation claims and lead to litigation – all of which can result in dollars out of your pocket, increased insurance premiums and project delays. For all these reasons, and because it’s the right thing to do, it is critically important that you protect your workers from falls.
June 2nd through 6th of 2014 is National Safety Stand-Down week – an initiative to prevent falls in construction. This week has been established to encourage employers to talk to workers about fall hazards and improve fall prevention measures. Today we look at steps you can take to improve safety standards on the job, stay in compliance with OSHA regulations on workplace safety and information you can present during this week of worker safety awareness.
#1 Falls are preventable
OSHA research indicates that all fall accidents are preventable and requires 100% fall protection policies to be in place. Even a brief exposure to a fall hazard is not tolerable according to OSHA. There are three steps in fall prevention – plan, provide and train. Proper job planning with safety in mind is step one, providing the right equipment is step two and training workers to properly use equipment is step three.
#2 Falls are caused by factors you can control (and a few you can’t)
Poor planning is one of the common causes of falls in the workplace. Not ensuring workplaces are clean and equipment is put away is another cause of falls. Environmental factors can also cause falls – this can include slippery work surfaces, inadequate lighting and, for exterior projects, inclement weather such as winds, rains and lightning.
#3 Always use proper safety equipment
Properly fitted harnesses are excellent tools to keep workers safe, as are guardrails and lifelines. Correct ladders for the job should be used every time, even if that means delaying work to bring the needed equipment to the site. Fully planked scaffolds that have been leveled and are equipped with guardrails are safety essentials. In addition to equipment that prevent falls, equipment that protects if falls happen is also important. These include fall arrest systems and safety nets when working at heights.
#4 Ensure workers are properly using safety equipment
The best fall prevention tools are meaningless without worker buy-in. Harnesses that go untethered are useless, and when workers step outside (or onto) guardrails or lifelines, they are risking their life and health and your reputation and bottom line. Train your workers on proper use of safety equipment, evaluate and reward them for properly using the tools provided and discipline those that do not obey safety standards. Workers that refuse to comply with safety standards put themselves and you at risk, and they may need to be replaced.
#5 Know the code
Protecting your workers is more than just smart business – it’s the law. You should be familiar with the codes that apply to your commercial painting business to avoid OSHA violation citations, which can be costly and can shut you down. Chapter 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Sections 1926.500 through 1926.503 cover fall protection and spell out very specifically what your responsibilities are for worker safety related to falls.
When you think of worker safety at your commercial painting business as it relates to falls, you may think second story or taller work, but in fact, any time your painters work six feet above a lower level, all of the federal safety regulations apply. Falls from even a few feet can result in serious injury and deaths can result – depending on the landing position of the victim – from heights as low as six to ten feet. The bottom line? Safety precautions are crucial at all times. We invite you to also check out this recent article on health concerns for commercial painters and how to protect your workers.