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Strategic Precautions Against Fatal Falls on the Job

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
January 2, 2001

Once the third leading cause of work-related death across all industries, falls have surpassed workplace homicide to become the second leading cause after motor vehicle crashes. Last year alone, some 717 workers died of injuries caused by falls from ladders, scaffolds, buildings, or other elevations. That equaled almost two deaths per day on average.

In the construction industry, falls lead all other causes of occupational death, but the risk is present in virtually every kind of workplace. It may occur in many forms, from standing on a ladder to change a lightbulb, to connecting bolts on steel girders hundreds of feet above the ground.

In a new report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends strategic precautions to prevent fatal, work-related falls. “Worker Deaths by Falls: A Summary of Surveillance Findings and Investigative Case Reports,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2000-116, provides a practical on-site resource for assessing individual workplaces, identifying risk factors for falls, and developing effective preventive measures. It is designed to be useful for employers and workers as well as for safety professionals.

Employers should design and use comprehensive fall-protection programs to reduce the risk of serious or fatal injuries, NIOSH recommends. At a minimum, employers should 1) incorporate safety in work planning, 2) identify all fall hazards at a work site, 3) conduct safety inspections regularly, 4) train employees in recognizing and avoiding unsafe conditions, and 5) provide employees with appropriate protective equipment and train them in its use.

As tools for such programs, the new report includes:

  • Extensive recommendations for preventing falls from ladders, scaffolds, buildings, fork lifts and stationary vehicle, and trees. The recommendations reflect current government and industry standards, as well as NIOSH research findings.
  • All 90 case reports that NIOSH has issued from investigations of fatal job-related falls under its Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program. Covering a wide range of work activities, these findings and recommendations will be useful to employers and workers in identifying and reducing risks in similar situations.

“Worker Deaths by Falls: A Summary of Surveillance Findings and Investigative Case Reports” is available at no charge by calling the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674). Information on other NIOSH research is available by calling the information number or by visiting NIOSH on the NIOSH site.