“I was one of those kids who hated heights. The funny thing is that I still had to experience heights many different times growing up, even though I didn’t like them. Heights are just a part of life for everyone. There are safe situations like riding on roller coasters and more dangerous ones like hiking up mountains with steep drop offs. Being scared of heights didn’t keep me from going to high places with my friends and family, but it did give me a respect for heights themselves and the reality of what would happen if I fell. I still have that awareness of the dangers as an adult. I often read about people who plummet to their deaths while doing things like walking close to ledges or near steep cliffs. All I can think is that if they were really aware of the kind of danger they were in, they might still be alive.”

Falls Can Cause Serious Injury and Death

Every workplace injury has some stat attached to it. If you exclude highway collisions, workplace deaths associated with falls are the leading cause of death in the private industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fall-related accidents are also prevalent in the construction industry, with nearly 40% of workplace deaths in construction resulting from them (they are one of OSHA's Fatal Four). Non-fatal fall-related injuries are also very common in other workplaces, and can even occur when the fall is not from a higher level to a lower one.

Some of the serious injuries that can result from falls from height include:

  • Sprains and strains or pulled muscles
  • Broken bones and fractures
  • Internal bleeding
  • Head and brain injuries
  • Neck and spine injuries

Falls have a large number of causes as well, such as:

  • Poorly secured ladders
  • Poor lighting or glare
  • Loud, startling noises
  • Improper signage
  • Physical impairments (such as illness or poor eyesight) and drug- or medication-induced impairment
  • Distraction or overconfidence

If this list seems long, remember that it is only a fraction of the hazards that could be responsible for a fall.

Avoiding Falls

The chances of experiencing a fall are so high that it may feel unavoidable. They are, however, completely preventable, even when accounting for the actions of others.

Perhaps the best way to avoid falls is to be conscious of your surroundings at all times. Overconfidence is hard to measure, but let’s face it: it plays a significant role. When we get comfortable in the workplace and go a long time without an accident, we can develop a carefree attitude toward our work that can border on carelessness (see Safety and Overconfidence: "I Won't Fall" to learn more).

It's also important to ensure that proper control measures are in place to mitigate fall hazards. Work sites should be equipped with an appropriate number of guardrails and care should be taken to install them properly. Safety nets also provide an important line of protection where there is a risk of workers falling from heights. Again, make sure that these are securely installed.

And, of course, if a fall does occur, wearing the right gear can prevent an incident from turning into a tragedy. So it is important that everyone working at heights not only wears their fall protection equipment but makes sure that it is outfitted properly (learn How to Prevent Fall Protection Equipment Malfunction).

Many fall-related worker injuries and deaths could have been avoided with simple preventative measures. Managers need to think carefully about where these accidents may occur, what might cause them, and what equipment is needed to protect workers in those areas. Whenever possible, go to the jobsite and try to get an idea of where accidents might occur. And get feedback from the workers. They work in these locations day in, day out and might be aware of trouble spots that wouldn't be noticed on a first look.

National Safety Stand Down

From May 8 to 12, managers and safety professionals across the country will participate in OSHA's National Safety Stand Down. Consider participating with your workers and taking the opportunity to remind them about the importance of fall safety.

The National Safety Council encourages all managers to participate in the National Safety Stand Down in whichever way best suits them and their workers. This can include:

  • Playing a safety video
  • Developing a rescue plan
  • Conducting a walk around with employees
  • Having a safety moment or toolbox talk focusing on ladder, scaffold, and roof safety
  • Holding a training session

You’ll also find helpful Fall Safety Stand Down resources from OSHA, including puzzles, posters, and fact sheets.