How to Get the Most Out of OSHA's Fall Protection Stand Down

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Photo Courtesy of Team Safety Inc

OSHA’s National Stand-Down for Fall Prevention in Construction

As consistent readers of this blog may have noticed, there is a lot of attention paid to fall prevention and protection. This is no accident. While falls account for a great number of injuries and deaths across all industries, falls to another level are the number one killer in Construction. In 2012, they accounted for 269 of the 775 Construction fatalities. Despite all of OSHA’s best efforts to bring these numbers down, falls remain at the top of the heap.

You would be hard pressed to find a single construction site anywhere in America where fall protection rules and regulations were not being violated. Whether it’s improperly adjusting a harness, not completely enclosing your work area in rails, using a lanyard that’s too long for the height at which a worker is working, or failing to utilize fall protection altogether, a safety professional could locate violations on each and every site.

Because of this, OSHA is always looking for new ways to raise awareness about fall prevention and protection. One of these ways is the National Stand-Down for Fall Prevention in Construction. This voluntary event, in partnership with NIOSH, takes place over the course of one week each year (this year it takes place from June 2- June 6) and is designed to get companies thinking about fall prevention. During this period, OSHA asks that employers and workers take a break in their workday to talk about fall prevention. This could be in the form of a discussion on ladder, scaffolding, or roofing safety; it could be a discussion on the proper use and storage of fall protection equipment; it could be anything at all related to the topic – that is left up to the employer.

In order for this to be an effective campaign, your stand-down cannot seem like a hastily thrown together, pointless meeting. It must be planned and delivered in an interesting and useful manner, and more importantly there needs to be some follow-up. You need to let your employees know just how important this topic is. Simply stopping work for a few minutes, tossing a few facts out, then going about business as usual is not going to convey that message.

Plan

Start off with some research. If you’re not comfortable with the statistics, facts, and requirements, you’re not going to be able to deliver them in a convincing manner. If you’re not comfortable delivering the information, utilize somebody who is. This doesn’t have to be a one-man show. Try to utilize real stories. Anecdotes may be just that – anecdotal – but they make a much more personal and emotional connection with workers. Stories where someone fell and was injured and died can create a connection, but be sure to also include stories where people were protected by following the proper fall protection processes.

To help you do your research, OSHA has developed a web page, http://www.osha.gov/StopFallsStandDown/ , with educational materials, training documents and videos that you could use to help raise the level of knowledge and awareness in your organization.

Deliver

Don’t just spout numbers. Use the stories you found to engage your workers and, if the stories have actually come from your workers, encourage them to share if they are willing. Getting them involved will help break up the session and once again make the point more personal. While you’re going to want upper management to be a part of the presentation to show your company’s commitment to fall prevention and safety in general, you want to make sure that the entire event is being facilitated by somebody with an engaging personality – perhaps your best trainer. Either way, do your best to make sure the event is interactive, interesting, and even entertaining.

Follow-Up

This could be the most critical part of the stand-down even though it doesn’t actually occur during the stand-down. If there is no follow-up to what was discussed regarding fall prevention, it will be appear to your employees that this was nothing more than a publicity stunt. Picture this: you stand up in front of your workforce telling them how important fall prevention is and how dedicated to it you are. An hour later they get a harness from your gang box or tool room that looks like it’s been through war. They mention to your site superintendent that it appears unsafe and he tells them to quit complaining and get back to work. Your entire message was just nullified.

It is important that you get your supervision on board with your message. It is important that you ensure your employees have the necessary equipment and that that equipment is properly cared for. It is important that you build a culture within your organization that says Fall Prevention – and Safety in general – is not a once-per-year special event, but a way of life.

Most importantly, share this information. Let your subcontractors know. Let your colleagues know. Let your professional organizations know. Lead by example. If you are at the top of your safety game, you will raise the performance of others around you. In the end, though, OSHA can shout this from the rooftops if it wants, but it won’t have much of an effect if the construction employers and workers remain silent. Reducing these fall fatalities can only happen if OSHA, employers, and employees come together to stop the destructive behavior that leads to these incidents.

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