Safety organizations remembered fallen workers on Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28, with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) hoping to raise awareness about fall injuries during the day, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) magazine reported.
Falls are a common workplace hazard, with falls from ladders being especially dangerous to workers. The highest number of these injuries are among male and Hispanic workers, according to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) NIOSH. The report shows falls are the biggest factor in worker deaths in the U.S., as 43% of fatal falls in the past 10 years involved a ladder.
“Some hazards that have existed since the dawn of human industry still claim lives and livelihoods,” said John Howard, director of NIOSH, about Workers’ Memorial Day. “In this regard, [NIOSH] is proud to join again this year with our numerous partners in the public and private sectors in our joint national campaign to end fall hazards.”
In 2011, 113 workers died from occupational fall injuries from ladders, and employers reported approximately 15,460 nonfatal injuries where employees had to take one or more days off work, according to NIOSH. An estimated 34,000 nonfatal injuries were treated in emergency departments.
Workers in the construction industry had the greatest chance of suffering fall injuries as 81% of these employees were treated for falls from a ladder. In addition to construction, falls related to occupations connected to extraction, installation, maintenance and repair were the most fatal and had high work-related ladder fall injuries in 2011. The report showed facilities that had the fewest number of employees had the largest fatality rates.
Demographics most likely to suffer a fall
Breaking down falls by demographics, the NIOSH report revealed men and Hispanics were more likely to have fatal and nonfatal ladder fall injuries than women, non-Hispanic workers and other races and ethnicities. Workers who had to take the highest number of days away from work included Hispanics (a median of 38 days) and men (a median of 21 days.)
Age also was a significant factor in occupational fall injuries as the likelihood of falls from ladders rose as age increased, with the exception being injuries treated in emergency departments, according to NIOSH. The median number of days taken off from work for employees ages 45 to 54 years was 25 days.
In addition to productivity loss, fall injuries contribute to a growing expense for businesses. According to NIOSH, occupational fall incidents accumulate to an estimated $70 billion in workers compensation costs and medical expenses in the U.S.
Chance of fatality and type of injury also were noted by NIOSH. About half of all fatal injuries involved a head injury. For nonfatal injuries reported by employers and treated at emergency departments, the leading type of injury were ones linked to the upper and lower extremities. Workers with lower-extremity injuries were out of work for 22 days while those who had injuries to several body parts were absent for 27 days.
Safety tips and resources to prevent fall injuries
To combat fall injuries from ladders, NIOSH offers several workplace safety resources to improve ladder safety, including a mobile app.
“Injuries from ladder falls can be severe but are preventable,” according to the NIOSH report. “Medical professionals might recommend safe ladder practices to their patients, such as those published by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons as part of the Prevent Injuries Campaign.”
Employers may want to be aware of the top hazards associated with fall incidents in the workplace, including:
- Walking or working surfaces that are slippery or cluttered
- Edges that do not have guards to prevent falls
- Wall openings or holes in the floor where workers can fall
- Ladders that are not positioned safely
- Fall protection that is not used properly
Employers may want to plan ahead to avoid using ladders or having workers do a job at heights. Businesses may implement safety-in-design and have staff perform as much work on the ground as they can. They also may want to use equipment alternatives to ladders that may be safer to operate. These may include aerial lifts or supported scaffolds.
View “Ladder Safety,” a free SafetyNet video at copperpoint.com, under the Safety tab.