"There are many good options for conventional fall protection," according to the American Society of Safety Engineers. "However, they are not widely used." In the July issue of the organization's Professional Safety, a peer-reviewed monthly journal, the researchers look at the options available, why they are not being used, and potential solutions.
"Falls account for 64 percent of the fatalities in residential building and 100 percent among framing contractors according to a 2011 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics," ASSE noted. "Despite these grim figures, workers still frequently work at heights without fall protection."
Safety audits at nearly 197 residential sites showed only a 59 percent average compliance rate with fall protection and/or prevention measures. Specifically, the range was 28 percent compliance for roof truss installations to 80 percent for roof sheathing.
In the article, Fall Prevention on Residential Construction Sites, authors Vicki Kaskutas, Bradley Evanoff, and Harry Miller reported on a pilot study that identified fall protection technologies, measured a small sample of carpentry professionals' perceptions of these technologies, and pilot tested two devices with several residential contractors. Groups surveyed consisted of apprentice carpenters, journeymen carpenters, safety professionals, and contractor owners/operators.
The study showed commercially available fall protection solutions exist for three categories:
- Protection on floor openings.
- Provision of temporary walking surfaces.
- Personal fall arrest anchorage.
All were said to be effective in protecting workers from falls after minimal training.
"The primary concern to use was the effect of a device on productivity," ASSE said in a statement. "There is a learning curve when using a new fall protection device; this can add time to the home building process, which is a major concern in the current economic environment."
Additional concerns cited were the lack of safe and feasible points on which to anchor a harness, especially during framing; resistance to changing work habits; and the lack of time, knowledge, and financial resources to implement the options.
Among the cited solutions to overcoming these obstacles were repetitive use of a device that leads to long-term adoption of fall protection technologies, loaning of pilot-tested equipment to contractors to allow them to integrate it into their workplaces before they purchase it, and fall protection equipment rental companies that may be able to help contractors identify and locate the best equipment for a contractor's situation.
"Alternatives to unsafe work practices at heights must be identified and tested to ensure the safety of residential construction workers," the authors wrote. "Fall protection device manufacturers and the building components industry should partner to test anchorage for personal fall arrest; this will help generate definitive evidence about the safety of personal fall arrest systems in various applications."
By Nancy Grover
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September 9, 2013
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