Fall Protection

Sorry for the delay in writing. I have had some personal and professional projects taking a lot of my spare time. I have been preparing to present at a couple local conferences on Industrial Hygiene in Construction. It is a good exercise for me to ponder what I should say to these audiences. Here are some takeaways:


My latest guess (subject to change, by even tomorrow) is the Federal OSHA rule for silica will be enacted.

“Why”, you say? …well:

  • Current administration would love to push it through
  • Yes. It’s still an issue in the construction world. Have you driven by a construction site lately?
  • Federal OSHA is also talking about updating the PELs…and this one (silica) is an easy one
  • When?  No idea.

Falls in Construction:

This one is huge. In a bad way. If you look at what kills the most in construction, it’s falls (inclusive of scaffolding, ladders, fall protection, etc.) They cost a lot too. Not just in the number of people killed, but the claims & recovery cost are high. And, near misses in construction are VERY common. For example, just two weeks ago: An 18 year old roofer apprentice was working on a roof.  He stepped onto a piece of drywall and would have fallen to a concrete slab 25 feet below. Luckily someone had moved a piece of equipment directly under where he fell. He only fell four feet and had no injuries.

Hierarchy of Controls:

Is anyone working with these anymore? Just kidding, sort of. But, we can do a better job in construction of:

  1. Engineering Controls first. Can we eliminate this hazard? Has anyone asked to substitute this product for a safer one?
  2. Administrative Controls second. There are ways and methods which we do things in construction. These are usually passed down from journeyman to apprentice. Overall, this is awesome. For example, we need to rethink why we place the rebar on the ground? Can we use saw horses? Better material handling would save a lot of injuries.
  3. PPE third. And as a last resort.

Personal Protective Equipment:

Oh boy. There is a lot of room for improvement here. The wrong equipment, worn incorrectly, not used enough, and damaged. I don’t have the answer for this, except we should create and encourage the best safety culture possible.  I think this helps construction to take pride in their work, and their (and their friend’s) safety.

To raise awareness for construction fall protection, OSHA is asking for construction employers to join them between June 2 – 6, 2014 for employee training on the subject.

At OSHA’s site, you can find out how to:

  • conduct a safety stand-down
  • get additional resources; videos, wallet cards, etc
  • print a certificate
  • get a company poster (even in spanish)
  • share your story

And, look at my earlier posts for more additional resources.

fall protection

Construction workers falling is the number 1 cause of death in this industry (residential & commercial).

NIOSH has published a prevention through design (PtD) document for those who design parapets to prevent falls. This document is new. But the principle of it has been around since Moses’ time: “When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.” Deuteronony 22:8. 

Another good resource: Stop Construction Falls .com. They even have an interesting map which shows where they occur.

The CPWR obtained a NIOSH grant and has some free videos here.

map of falls

Spring is when the work picks up, be safe out there.

I titled this post, “hazards of drywall”, but it encompassing most of the common hazards of plaster, mud, gypsum, wall-hangers, tapers, and acoustic employees.

  1. Corrosive drywall.

    I have not dealt with this subject on a personal level. However, AIHA has a new guidance document titled, “Assessment and Remediation of Corrosive Drywall: An AIHA Guidance Document“, which is a clarification of an earlier white paper document from 2000, titled, “Corrosive Drywall“. The danger is from a specific type of drywall which was imported from China. After installation it is known to emit sulfide vapors, which corrode copper (electrical wires), and can give off a sulfur smell (HT to JeffH in Ohio).

  2. Asbestos in mud/plaster.

    Be aware, some older buildings (pre 1980s) may have asbestos in the mud compound or plaster (not as common). This will be a concern if you are performing demo on these walls. Info here.

  3. Silica (dust) in joint (mud) compound.

    Some types of silica I have found to have silica. This can be an issue when sanding. AND, if you install drywall like me…you do a lot of sanding. More information from an earlier post can be found here. NIOSH has some suggestions too.

  4. Leaded sheetrock. If you are installing (or demo) leaded sheetrock, you NEED to protect yourself. Airborne levels of lead can approach the exposure limits, even during installation. More info here.
  5. Lead in paint. If you’re tying into existing plaster/drywall and there’s paint, you need to know if there’s lead in it. Sanding on the paint is a good way to be exposed. More info here.
  6. Ergonomics. Hanging the wallboard takes a toll on your body after 20 years (or less). Not to mention sanding. Washington OSHA (L&I) has a good demo.
  7. Noise. Cutting steel studs, powder actuated tools (there’s lead exposure too, you know).
  8. Skin hazards. Cutting, but also dermatitis from prolonged exposure to dust.
  9. Eye hazards. Dust, carpentry, etc. Working overhead is an easy way to get falling items in your eyes.
  10. Falls. Last on my list, but certainly not the least. Scaffolding, working from ladders, and using stilts, to name a few.

focusfourMuch research has been done in construction safety. If you are working in construction, you have probably heard the facts over and over. The majority of construction injuries are from four main hazards, hence the “focus four hazards“. Although this site is for health issues & industrial hygiene in construction, it would be ridiculous to NOT mention these other hazards.

  • Falls,
  • Caught-in or Caught-between,
  • Struck-by &
  • Electrocution.

When talking with superintendents and safety coordinators, you can usually tell very quickly  if they have these under control. Either their subcontractors already do it right, or if/when they see an error, they immediately stop and address the inefficiency.

I saw this ladder in front of my children’s school. There was no one around and, by the look of it, there might have been someone on the roof. I should have waited, or fixed the ladder and spoken to the individual. But, I didn’t. Instead, I took a picture, put it on the internet, and now I’m telling everyone why it’s wrong.


My friend, Shelley, sent me these pictures of a city maintenance crew hanging up the Christmas decorations in town. These guys have probably been working this way for years. What will take to make them change? Administrative controls? As I’ve mentioned before, falls are the #1 killer in construction.


As common as it sounds, falls in construction are still the #1 killer.

Go to www.osha.gov/stopfalls

This site has good information, reminders, training, and resources.