OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
"Don't wait for us to come to you," says Regional OSHA Head
Between 1995 and 1998, 68 New Englanders fell to their deaths while on the job.
Twenty-two of those fatalities occurred in 1998 alone.
And at least five more New England workers have died in similar accidents since the first of this year.
"Those numbers - and the losses and hardships to families they represent - are unacceptable," said Ruth McCully, New England Regional Administrator for the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). "Nearly all of these falls could have been prevented if employers had taken effective steps to protect workers against fall hazards."
In an effort to curb this leading cause of the on-the-job deaths, OSHA has launched a region-wide education and enforcement program intended to reduce such accidents by increasing employer and worker awareness about potentially fatal fall hazards in their workplaces and the means by which they can prevent and eliminate them.
"In New England, fatal falls have not decreased over the past four years and have, in fact, risen, from thirteen in 1995 to twenty-two in 1998," said McCully. "That disturbing trend, combined with a construction boom in the region, a growing awareness of fall hazards in general industry, and OSHA's overall strategic goal of reducing such fatalities by 15-percent or more, compel us to undertake this program now."
A variety of workers can be exposed to falls in the course of their workday, including those engaged in construction, steel erection, roofing, painting, sandblasting, carpentry, electrical work, landscaping and tree-trimming, cable television installation and other jobs requiring employees to work on elevated platforms, scaffolding, ladders, bridges, open-sided floors, roofs and aerial lifts.
The program will focus on identifying and addressing fall hazards both in construction, where falls are the leading cause of death and most often occur from roofs or roof openings, scaffolds, staging and ladders, and in general industry (including manufacturing, services, wholesale and retail trade), where falls often happen while workers are performing maintenance or other non-routine tasks on open-sided floors, elevated work platforms and aerial lifts.
Its four major components will combine outreach efforts, compliance assistance during OSHA inspections, an increased emphasis on identifying and addressing fall hazards during general industry inspections and an enforcement component that will include targeted inspections of worksites where fall hazards are observed.
"While traveling in the normal course of their duties, OSHA compliance officers will keep an eye out for employees working more than ten feet above the next lower level without apparent fall protection," said McCully. "If hazards are observed, an inspection can be opened on the spot. If violations are found, appropriate citations and fines will result."
The focus on fall hazards in general industry, in addition to construction, is a unique aspect of the program. Since many general industry fall exposures occur during non-routine tasks, they may often be overlooked. As part of the program, OSHA inspectors conducting targeted inspections in general industry workplaces will review injury records and conduct interviews to determine if fall exposures exist and if so, whether employers are supplying workers with appropriate personal protective equipment.
"But intensive enforcement activity alone won't get the job done," said McCully. "Changing workplace culture to increase employer and worker awareness of, and commitment to, safety is just as important. That's why education and outreach are key components of this effort.
"That's also why we're starting by having our area offices seek out as many stakeholders as possible to inform them, through seminars and other venues, about the necessity, importance and means of effective fall protection," she said. "In addition, at workplaces where fall exposures are identified, OSHA inspectors will provide employers and worker representatives with a comprehensive package of informational materials about fall hazards and safeguards."
McCully noted that her agency particularly wants to reach smaller employers, those with ten or fewer employees, who may not necessarily be cognizant of all fall protection requirements:
"We encourage them to contact OSHA or the free safety consultation services offered by each state to learn more about fall protection and to do so before OSHA arrives at their workplaces to conduct an inspection because of an accident, a complaint or a hazardous condition observed while passing by," she said. "In a sense, we're saying 'Don't wait for OSHA to come to you.'. There are numerous resources available and we encourage employers to utilize them. Because at the end of the day, the most important thing for employer and employee alike is for a worker to simply be able to go home in one piece."
McCully urged employers, employee groups, professional organizations and other parties interested in sponsoring or attending a fall protection seminar to contact their nearest OSHA area office for details.
The fall protection emphasis program began April 1, 1999 and will continue for at least three years; the enforcement phase will begin on June 1 of this year.
The information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (617) 565-2072. TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) Message Referral Phone: 800-347-8029.
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