The 2016 National Safety Stand-Down and Getting to Zero

By: Thaddeus J. Schurter, Drewry Simmons Vornehm, LLP

Earlier this month, construction industry participants from across the country took part in the 2016 National Safety Stand-Down. The nationwide event was initiated by OSHA as part of its ongoing Fall Prevention Campaign to raise awareness of the serious dangers of falls in construction.

Death by falling continued to be the leading cause of death for construction workers in fiscal year 2015.  Not surprisingly, OSHA’s fall protection standard was the number one most frequently cited standard following site inspections by OSHA authorities in 2015.  To combat these figures, Stand-Down participants were encouraged to pause during their workday to engage workers on safety topic discussions, demonstrations, and training on how to recognize hazards and prevent falls.  They were also encouraged to conduct safety equipment inspections, develop rescue plans, and discuss job specific safety hazards with their employees.

Job sites are dangerous places even under ideal conditions.  Taking time to engage and educate workers on the danger of falls, hazard identification, and the proper use of fall protection equipment is time well spent.  Providing this type of training is not only commendable, it is also required under OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart M.

OSHA 1926.503(a)(1) provides: “[t]he employer shall provide a training program for each employee who might be exposed to fall hazards. The program shall enable each employee to recognize the hazards of falling and shall train each employee in the procedures to be followed in order to minimize these hazards.”

Among other things, the required training must cover:

  • the nature of fall hazards in the work area;
  • the correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling, and inspecting fall protection systems;
  • the use and operations of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, warning line systems; and
  • the role of employees in fall protection plans.

OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard, the National Safety Stand-Down and Fall Prevention campaigns all play an integral role in increasing awareness of fall hazards in the work area, as well as correct procedures, systems, and personal responsibility for reducing fall-related deaths in construction. Although the 2016 Stand-Down ended on May 6th, ongoing education and training will remind your workforce to make safe work practices part of their everyday routine. There is no shortage of resources to make this training easily available and effective.

With proper planning, equipment, and training, construction related fall deaths can be prevented. As OSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor, Dr. David Michaels wrote, “[w]hen it comes to workplace fatalities and injuries, the only acceptable number is zero.”