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July 12, 2013
Workers ignoring fall protection? Research offers possible solutions

Despite the significant risk of injury or death, construction workers continue to work at heights without fall protection. A recently published study examines the reasons for this and offers solutions that could prevent an accident or save a life.

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The researchers/authors of Fall Protection in Residential Construction Sites, which appears in the July issue of Professional Safety, studied compliance at 197 residential construction sites. They found only 59 percent compliance with fall protection/prevention measures. That means, for example, that workers installing roof tresses may stand on top of walls without fall arrest or protection.

The researchers conducted a written survey to assess the workers’ perception of fall protection in terms of ease-of-use and other issues. They were shown a presentation about the various devices and asked to rate them. Two top-rated devices were purchased for pilot testing and crews were trained to install and use them. Follow-up visits assessed how well the devices were being used.

The study found that many commercially available solutions were viewed as effective in preventing falls and could be used by crews after minimal training. The primary concern was the effect of a device on productivity. The solutions were for three categories: protection on floor openings, provision of temporary walking surfaces, and personal fall arrest anchorage.

Co-author Vicki Kaskutas commented, “There is a learning curve when using a new fall protection device; this can add time to the home building process, which is a major concern in the current economic environment.”

The article identifies solutions to overcoming these and other obstacles. Among them:

  • Repetitive use of a device to lead to long-term adoption of the technology;
  • Loaning of pilot-tested equipment to contractors to allow them to integrate it into their workplace before they buy it; and
  • Assistance by fall protection equipment rental companies to help contractors identify and locate the best equipment for a particular need.

The study authors point out that the need for better compliance is significant, as falls account for 64 percent of the fatalities in residential building and 100 percent among framing contractors.

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