A Peer Review Construction-Related Fall Accidents

A Peer Review Construction-Related Fall Accidents

Introduction

Fall-related accidents are significant public health risks and major causes of non-fatal and fatal injuries, and even death, in the construction industry. In the United States, the construction industry accounts for 21.7% of all occupation-related fatalities (Lipscomb, Li & Dement, 2003). In the Great Britain, between 2004 and 2007, in every single group of1000 workers in the construction industry, 16 of them sustained fatal injuries (Pollack et al., 1996). In China, more than one third of industrial accidents occur in the construction industry (Yung, 2009). In Kuwait, constructional incidents account for 42% of all occupational accidents (Lipscomb, Li & Dement, 2003). On top of the fact that the construction industry contributes to a high rate of industrial accidents, it is important to note that majority of accidents occurring in the construction industry are mainly caused by falls.

The construction industry is normally risky due to the fact that it normally involves outdoor operations, working at great heights, working in complex environments, dynamic construction methods and a variety of construction materials. Fall accidents in the construction industry are normally related to dangerous working conditions and poor management of the construction site. As Janicak (1998) argues, whereas the compensation of workers in the construction industry tends to provide some benefits to the victim of a fall accident, it is important to note that compensation alone is not able to bring life back. Therefore, it is important to understand the causes of the fall related accidents in the construction industry. It is also important to come up with an appropriate protection program which can be used in curbing the occurrence of such accidents. This paper specifically looks at falls from heights. It examines the causative factors of falls from heights and a protection program which can be used to curb such accidents in the construction industry. The paper is based on peer-reviewed journal articles based on construction-related fall accidents.

A Review and Analysis of Accidents Related To Falls from Heights in the Construction Industry

Falls from heights are common in the construction industry. Despite the efforts put in place by industries, government authorities and safety professionals in order to curb such kinds of accidents, it is important to note that falling from heights in the construction industry still remains a major challenge. It still remains a major source of many injuries and deaths in the construction industry. Therefore, it is important for risk factors to be identified and protective programs to be put in place (Tam, Tong & Chan, 2006).

In the construction industry, alls from heights normally occur from ladders, roofs and scaffolds. All in all, it is important to note that the extent of a height related fall accident in the construction industry depends on the height one falls from. The lower the height, the less serious the extent of a height related fall accident is. However, if the height from which one falls is high, it needs to be pointed out that the person involved in the accident is likely to sustain more serious injuries. There is also a possibility for a person who falls from an extremely high level height to collapse and die instantly (Pollack et al., 1996).

According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report, between 1974 and 1978, suspended scaffolds were involved in 27 deaths (25 incidents) out of a total of 87 scaffold fall deaths (82 incidents). In this particular case, 17 of the incidents involved equipment failure (Jeong, 1998). A study by Lipscomb and his colleagues shows that in the year 1998, 19% of all residential construction accidents that occurred in Hawaii were caused by falls from roofs (Lipscomb et al., 2006).

Falls from height normally lead to injuries such as bruises, fractures, dislocations, concussions, lacerations, cuts, external and internal bleeding and among other forms of injuries. In serious cases, falls from heights sometimes result in death. Whenever a worker in the construction industry falls from a significantly high level, it is important to note that any part of his or her body can be injured. Both upper and lower limbs, the head, neck and trunk can all be affected (Yung, 2009).

Construction-related falls from heights normally result in loss of human life, reduction in the quality of life of the workers involved in the accidents, medical burden, delays in implementation of projects, increased costs of projects, reduced morale among the workers, costs due to temporary closures of construction sites, costs of putting remedial measures in place, impaired image of the involved construction firm, difficulties in winning further contracts, revulsion of the entire society, difficulties in recruitment of workers and among other negative consequences. These are serious negative impacts. Therefore, it is important for construction managers and contractors to ensure that falls from heights are minimized in the construction industry. This is the main way through which these negative impacts can be avoided (Pollack et al., 1996).

Causative Factors Associated with Falls from Heights

In order to prevent height related fall accidents in the construction industry, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the causative factors leading to the falls from heights. There are several causative factors of height related fall accidents in the construction industry. To begin with, the working surfaces and platforms normally contribute to falls from heights in the construction industry. In this case, accidents and injuries are common in cases of slippery working surfaces, slippery floors, slippery ladders and improper concrete surfaces. Such surfaces normally result in falls from high levels. The safely behaviors and attitudes also cause height related fall accidents in the construction industry. This case involves how workers perceive and evaluate risks, operating at an unsafe speed and being involved in horseplay while working. Construction structures and facilities also cause height related fall accidents in the construction industry. For instance, accidents may occur as a result of the instability of the building’s framework (Lipscomb et al., 2006).

In a case where objects obstruct areas where construction workers are supposed to pass through, it is common for workers to trip and fall. Under such circumstances, workers normally sustain broken bones, dislocated bones, serious abrasions and lacerations and among other serious height related fall accidents. Therefore, just like slip-and-falls, trip-and-falls can be devastating. They normally result in long-time absenteeism from work and intensive medical attention. In some cases, such falls normally result in very serious injuries, such as the breaking of the spinal cord, traumatic brain injuries, and paralysis and among other very serious injuries and incidents, including death (Tam, Tong & Chan, 2006).

Violation of safety regulations also leads to height related fall accidents in the construction industry. For instance, in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has put in place specific guidelines that are supposed to be followed when working in the construction industry. These guidelines are supposed to protect workers against potential accidents and injuries in the construction industry.  However, in some cases, some workers may decide to sacrifice their safety in order to gain some profits and advantages. In other cases, the employers themselves decide to sacrifice the safety of their employees in order to make huge profits. Under such circumstances, the employer may be held liable, depending on the type of violation made (Pollack et al., 1996).

Another cause of height related fall accidents in the construction industry is failure to abide by the current building codes. This may include the usage of defective materials in construction, usage of faulty bindings and designs, and inadequate inspection of the construction work. Under such circumstances, there is a high likelihood for walls and roofs to collapse and this may result in serious injuries among workers, including those related to falling from heights. Some workers in the construction industry become victims of height related fall accidents due to lacking safety training. Without being trained on safety matters, it is impossible for workers to be aware of the possible fall accidents they are likely to face in the construction industry. Due to the fact that in most cases these dangers remain unknown to many workers in the construction industry, these workers tend to take less precaution. As a result, height related fall accidents and other serious injuries become inevitable to them (Yung, 2009).

Lack of inspection of the construction work and site is another common cause of height related fall accidents in the construction industry. In any construction site, it is important for inspection to be done in every stage. Therefore, before proceeding to the next building process, it is important to do thorough inspection of the previous stage of construction. Failure to do thorough inspection of the previous construction process is likely to result in serious injuries, those resulting from falls from heights included. The usage of outdated construction materials and equipment is likely to cause serious fall accidents in the construction industry. Some contractors and managers may decide to cut down costs by keeping to themselves new construction materials and equipment or by not purchasing them at all. They might decide to use old materials in their place. Such actions are likely to increase the risk of fall accidents to construction workers. Therefore, it is important for the construction managers to ensure that current construction materials and equipment are used (Tam, Tong & Chan, 2006).

Lack of proper signage in the construction industry is also likely to result in serious height related fall accidents. Proper signage in the construction industry is likely to ensure that workers are given direction in case of any danger. Such a signage warns the workers against possible dangers in specific areas of the construction site. Whenever danger occurs, the presence of improper signage normally results in serious injuries and accidents, including those related to falls from heights. Additionally, factors such as the safety behavior at the managerial level, the usage of protective equipment, the health status and physical characteristics of workers, the environment in which the construction site is located and methods of construction used also do contribute to risks of height related falls in the construction industry (Lipscomb et al., 2006).

A Sample of a Fall Protection Program

In order to prevent accidents related to falls from heights, it is important for construction industries to put in place effective programs that can minimize the occurrence of such accidents. An effective protective program should entail various protective elements. To begin with, it is important for construction managers and contractors to ensure that they make use of the applicable laws. For instance, in the United States, the employers and contractors should make use of the provisions of OSHA on the same. In the OSHA Handbook (29 CFR), it stated clearly that fall protection is needed in areas and activities such as runways, walkways, ramps, excavations, holes, formwork, hoists, leading edge work, unprotected edges and working sides, overhand bricklaying and related activities, precast erection, roofing, wall openings, working surfaces and among others. Protecting falls in such areas and activities is important. It is likely to reduce fall accidents related to falling from heights (Rivara & Thompson, 2000).

It is important for all workers in the construction industry to be taught on safety measures, fall protection systems and ways of identifying potential hazards. Having relevant skills and knowledge on the same will ensure that the workers in the construction industry remain safe whenever a fall accident occurs. It is also important for construction managers to ensure that they put in place proper emergence response plans at the construction sites. This can be effected through putting in place specific accident prevention and safety plans that can address foreseeable emergencies. In order for the emergence response plans to be of any benefit to the workers, it is important for them to be made aware of the plans. They should be made aware of all the emergence procedures available at their workplaces. If possible, it is important for the workers to be trained on the usage of the safety procedures. This can be effected through occasional safety lectures and programs (Winn, Seasman & Baldwin, 2004).

In the implementation of fall protective systems and other safety programs, it is important for the employees to be involved. This is due to the fact that the employees are the ultimate beneficiaries of these programs. Their familiarity and experience at the construction sites can translate to a unique and significant contribution to safety and health decision-making and accident prevention. There is a likelihood that workers involved in implementation of safety programs are likely to remain informed and they are likely to take more responsibility in ensuring that they remain safe (Rivara & Thompson, 2000).

It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that he or she provides fall protection systems to his or her employees. Fall protection systems ensure that fall accidents are minimized in the construction industry. The systems ensure that workers in construction sites work in a safe environment without any threat of possible fall related accidents. It is also important to make use of safety signs in the construction industry. All areas in the construction site that are likely to result in fall accidents should be marked with visible signs that can be seen by all the workers. This can help in minimizing injuries related to falls (Winn, Seasman & Baldwin, 2004).

It is important for employers and contractors to ensure that effective construction materials are used. Some workers may decide to exchange new construction materials with old and defective ones that are likely to lead to fall related accidents. For instance, it is common for workers in the construction industry to use old and outdated cements and sell the new supplies. If used in construction, such defective materials are likely to result in finished works of poor quality. For instance, it is common for walls and roofs constructed from such defective materials to collapse. When this occurs, there is a high likelihood for numerous accidents to occur, including those related to falls from heights (Sa, Seo & Choi, 2009).

In order to reduce fall accidents in the construction industry, it is also important for employers and contractors to insist on the workers’ fitness to duty. They should ensure that the recruited workers are physically, mentally and emotionally qualified in carrying out their duties. For instance, the employers and contractors should avoid recruiting workers who take alcohol and those who are on medication. Such kinds of workers are not fit to work in a construction site. The construction industry is complex and hazardous. Therefore, these kinds of workers are likely to become victims of height related fall accidents that are common in the construction industry (Winn, Seasman & Baldwin, 2004).

Inspection of the construction process is an important undertaking in ensuring that fall accidents are minimized in the construction industry. Therefore, in order to maintain safe conditions at the construction sites, it is important for managers and contactors to ensure that thorough and regular inspections of the construction work are made. The inspection should be done by competent and qualified inspectors. All the workers in a site should be encouraged to report any unsafe condition to the supervisors. The supervisors should report the defective condition to construction managers and contractors in order to ensure that they are corrected immediately and in time (Sa, Seo & Choi, 2009).

Summary and Conclusion

Falls from heights continue to be the major cause of injuries and deaths in the construction industry. It is estimated that falls from heights contribute to almost half of the total fatalities in the construction industry. Therefore, it is important to identify the causes of falls from heights in the construction industry. It is also important to adopt a suitable protection plan which can be used in reducing accidents and injuries related to falling from heights in the construction industry. In the construction industry, there are several causes of falls from heights. These include slippery working surfaces and platforms, poorly constructed structures and facilities, poor safety behaviors and attitudes among the construction workers, objects obstructing areas where construction workers are supposed to pass while at work, failure to abide by the current building codes, lack of proper inspection of the construction work, lack of proper signage in the construction sites, violation of safety regulations and among other risk factors.

In order to reduce the high number of accidents related to falls from heights, it is important for industries to ensure that they put in place an effective program which can ensure that the workers are safe. Such a program should entail all important elements that are likely to guarantee maximum worker safety in the construction industry. Such a program should be based on applicable laws, such as OSHA. The program should ensure that workers are taught on safety measures and ways of identifying potential hazards. It should involve inspection of the construction processes and should ensure that all the workers recruited are physically, mentally and emotionally fit. The program should ensure that effective construction materials are used in construction. The program should also ensure that protective systems are provided to the workers and that workers are involved in implementing protective measures. Such a program is likely to reduce accidents related to falls from heights in the construction industry.

 

 

 

References:

Janicak, C.A. (1998). Fall-related deaths in the construction industry, Journal of Safety Research, 29, 35-42.

Jeong, B. Y. (1998). Occupational deaths and injuries in the construction industry, Applied Ergonomics, 29, 355-360.

Lipscomb, H.J., Li, L. & Dement, J. M. (2003). Falls among union carpenters, Am J Ind Med, 44, 148-156.

Lipscomb, H. J., Glazner, J.E., Bondy, J., Guarini, K. & Lezotte, D. (2006). Injuries from slips and trips in construction, Applied Ergonomics, 37, 267-274.

Pollack, E. S., Griffin, M., Ringen, K. & Weeks, J. L. (1996). Fatalities in the Construction industry in the United States, 1992 and 1993, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 30, 325-330.

Rivara, F.P. & Thompson, D.C. (2000). Prevention of falls in the construction industry-Evidence for program effectiveness, American Journal of Preventive medicine, 18, 23-26.

Sa, J., Seo, D. C. & Choi, S.D. (2009). Comparison of risk factors for falls from heights between commercial and residential roofers, J. Safety Res, 40 (1): 1-6.

Tam, C. M., Tong, T. K. L. & Chan, K. K. (2006). Rough set theory for distilling construction safety measures, Construction management and Economics, 24, 1199-1206.

Winn, G.L., Seasman, B. & Baldwin, J.C. (2004). Fall protection incentives in the construction industry: literature review and field study, Int J Occup Saf Ergon, 10, 5-11.

Yung, P. (2009). Institutional Arrangements and Construction Safety in China, Construction Management and Economics, 27, 439-450.

 

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