Review of Fall Injuries in the Construction Industry

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This research paper discusses the frequency, severity, causation factors, and corrective measures of fall injuries in the construction industry.

Review of Fall Injuries in the Construction Industry

Injuries due to falls continue to plague the construction industry. Fall protection

compliance is the most frequently cited standard by Federal OSHA in 2017 for the industry   

(United States Department of Labor, OSHA, n.d.).

Fall fatalities are the number one cause of fatal injuries in the construction industry as

well.  A total of 384, or 38%, of the 991 construction related fatalities were a result of falls

(United States Department of Labor, OSHA, n.d.).  This staggering statistic is obviously on

OSHA’s radar and the industry is responding to the agency’s pressure.  Small employers

represent 55% of the fall injuries (The Center for Construction Research and Training, 2013). 

Federal OSHA performed an analysis of data from 2005 – 2007 and determined that falls

from elevations by roofers cost an average of $106,000 each, falls from elevations by carpenters

cost more than $97,000 each, and the average cost of a fall from elevation, for all other

occupational classifications were under $50,000.  Additionally, falls from ladders or scaffolds by

roofers cost approximately $68,000 each, and falls from ladders or scaffolds by carpenters cost

nearly $62,000 each (Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, 2012).  While these costs are immense,

data from OSHA inspections indicate that the industry has yet to ensure fall protection


OSHA standards for the construction industry require employees exposed to fall hazards

greater than six feet to be provided fall protection in the form of a guard rail, safety net, personal

fall arrest system, or a personal fall restraint device.  The requirements, of course, are complex,

with many exceptions and regulatory interpretations.  Even seasoned safety professionals can

misinterpret the regulatory requirements of fall protection.

For instance, fall protection requirements on scaffolding are not required until an

employee is greater than 10 feet off of the lower level.  Employees working in the basket of a

boom-lift must be tied-off at all times using a travel restraint lanyard.

Steel erection construction employees have even greater leniency as fall protection is not

required until they are 15 feet off of the ground. Employees completing connector work in steel

erection have yet another threshold of 30 feet or two stories, whichever is less. Deckers are also

allowed a 30 foot exemption after establishing a controlled decking zone.

Components of a personal fall arrest system consist of a properly fitted fall protection

harness with a D ring, a self-retracting life line and a permanent or temporary fall arrest anchor

capable of withstanding 5,000 pounds per attached employee.

Employees working off of ladders have different requirements. Ladders generally must

be rated to sustain at least four times the maximum intended load.   In any case where the climb

on a fixed ladder is greater than 24 feet or where the climb is less than 24 feet but the top of the

ladder is greater than 24 feet above a lower level, fall protection must be provided by one of the

following means:  a ladder safety device, a self-retracting lifeline, or a cage or a well.

Safety professionals have to evaluate on a recurring basis each work site to determine the

possible fall protection scenarios which may occur and effectively communicate their findings to

employees and supervisory staff.  Each construction project is generally unique and requires a

combination of systems and policies to effectively eliminate fall hazards.  This task is further

complicated by varied construction techniques and new materials entering the market, weather

constraints, language barriers and numerous contractors and sub-contractors.

  Fall protection components, hardware and devices are viewed by some contractors as

financially overly burdensome.   One weld-on anchor can cost over $100.  Providing employees

with ample fall protection equipment is lacking in residential construction. Home builders must

invest in employee safety instead of profits (Frontiers in Public Health, 2018).  

A common fallacy is the understanding that fall protection is not required if the duration

of the exposure is less than 30 minutes (American Society of Safety Engineers, 2017).  A

fatal fall can occur in less than a second as a result of just one a mis-step or other unplanned


Training employees is a key component of a proper fall protection system.  The majority

of training material presented to employees is simply a summary of the OSHA standards and

does not provide the necessary detail and solutions on how to translate the standards into

actionable, realistic work practices (American Society of Safety Engineers, 2017). 

Framers at a particular job site may be 100% trained for fall protection hazards and

extremely safety conscious, although an untrained electrician may create an unforeseen hazard

for the entire construction crew.  Many job site sites are composed of a number of various trades

including carpenters, plumbers, electricians, welders, HVAC specialists, insulators, masons, and

various temporary labor. 

  Fall protection has received a great deal of attention in recent years.  OSHA has hosted

The National Fall Safety Stand-Down starting in 2012 and this event has continued.  This

emphasis, which is part of OSHA’s fall prevention campaign in order to garner greater attention

to fall safety hazards, has had a positive effect on the industry (Plumbing and Mechanical, 2015).  

Construction is a very dynamic industry with sites changing rapidly.  Effective proven

corrective measures are varied and there is not one silver bullet alone to ensure complete fall

protection safety, but rather a shotgun approach.   The reasons for non-compliance with the

OSHA standard and resulting injuries are numerous.

Effective measures to combat fall protection injuries include perform the work at ground

level if possible and minimizing the time spent working at elevation. Pre-plan and use

ergonomic principles to design the task to be as easy and stable as possible.  Research and select

an appropriate means for elevating workers based on the task requirements and other

considerations.  Provide protection to prevent falls that might otherwise occur. Provide fall arrest

systems for those tasks with residual fall risk (American Society of Safety Engineers,2018).

Ensuring each employee is trained properly and has the requisite fall protection devices

to perform their specialized job task as a cohesive safe unit can be a daunting undertaking for

any safety professional. Individual employee variables such as tenure in the industry, past fall

protection exposures, previous level of training and comprehension, language skills and time

constraints for their specific job tasks all add to the complexity of ensuring a safe construction


The National Institute of Safety & Health (NIOSH) Ladder Safety application for smart

phones is an excellent tool to assist even the most seasoned construction worker.   The

application is free, available in Spanish and English and is NIOSH’s first mobile application. 

The application concentrates on the safe use of extension and step ladder proper use, inspection,

selection, accessories and most importantly the correct angle to position an extension ladder with

a click of the application (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).



  • American Society of Safety Engineers.  (2017).   Fall Protection:  Overcoming misconceptions in residential construction. Professional Safety, 58 -64.   Retrieved from
  • American Society of Safety Engineers. (2018).  Prevention through planning, working at height.  Professional Safety, 22-26.  Retrieved from ttp://
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  Retrieved from
  • Industrial Safety and Hygiene News.  (2012). OSHA adds up the high cost of construction    falls.  Retrieved from
  • O’Donnell, K. (2017). Review of the campaign to prevent falls in construction. Frontiers in Public Health (5), 1-4.  Retrieved from
  • Plumbing and Mechanical. (2015). OSHA to host second-annual construction fall safety stand-down.  Retrieved from
  • The Center for Construction Research and Training. (2103). The construction chart book. Retrieved from Nonfatal-Injuries-from-Falls-in-Construction-2013-update.pdf
  • United States Department of Labor.  (n.d.).   Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Commonly used statistics, Retrieved from


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