Fall protection is an important topic on the WorkSAFE Podcast. Falls continue to be one of the leading causes of death in many industries. Every fall is preventable. To prevent them, employees need the right safety equipment and training. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dedicates a week to raise awareness about it every year. This year, businesses can join in on the 8th annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction from May 3-7.
On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we sit down with Bill McDonald. He is Area Director of the OSHA ‐ St. Louis Area Office in Missouri. “OSHA is here because we want you to go home not just tonight, but we want you to go home every night,” McDonald explained. This event is a chance to talk about safety with employees.
First, we’ll talk about what a stand-down event is. Then, we’ll discuss why businesses should join in. Finally, we’ll share how employers can get involved.
Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Safety stand-down 101
A safety-stand down is about taking time to have conversations about safety. It’s more than just giving out a flyer with safety tips. But it doesn’t have to a fancy event, either.
During a stand-down, employees and employers stop working. They take the opportunity to talk about safety topics. During the month of May, OSHA asks employers to focus on fall safety. This includes going over safety rules, bringing up any on-the-job issues, and talking about potential hazards.
“Stand down” may come across as a negative phrase for some. It does mean stopping whatever you are doing on the job. But there’s value in any time you can use to talk about safety. And a safety-stand down allows you to plan ahead for that time. “You can’t have too many conversations about being safe,” McDonald added.
Why is a safety stand-down important?
Safety stand-downs address common safety hazards. Every year, dozens of workers are injured by falls. OSHA is putting a spotlight on the construction industry in May 2021. However, falls happen in nearly every other industry. Oily or wet floors put food service workers at risk. Stairs without handrails threaten both staff and customers.
Further, life-changing falls can happen when working at an elevation. For example, working on a roof exposes workers to hazards. But even safer options, like scaffolding or aerial lifts, have risks. If you want to prevent injuries, then you have to learn to use them correctly.
“If you’re six feet or higher, you’ve got to have fall protection,” McDonald expressed. A simple rule like this can be easily overlooked. Ladders are a common tool at home, in the office, and on the job. Staying safe and using equipment at the same time can turn into a balancing act. They should be the last choice when working at heights.
Some pieces of equipment come with stickers. They share safety tips and the right way to use the product. These labels can be a great way to start a conversation about fall safety.
Sharing fall protection with employees during a safety stand-down
Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry. But it doesn’t have to be this way. “I think we have to start with the basic fact that all falls are preventable,” McDonald pointed out. Sometimes employees offer excuses. Maybe the job will only take a few minutes. Or they’d rather reach a little farther than is safe instead of climbing down and moving the ladder. But a fall can happen in a single moment. And it can change a life forever.
McDonald recommends that employers plan ahead when it comes to safety. “’What do I need to do to protect my employees?’,” he asked. What risks will teams be exposed to on the job? What do they already know about fall protection? Don’t wait until an incident happens to start thinking about safety.
Part of working safely is having the right equipment. Safety devices save lives. They also protect from serious injury. Make sure employees have harnesses that fit correctly. Don’t give them whatever is lying around or placed in storage. A harness must fit right to work right. Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be available to all employees. Fall protection equipment can seem overwhelming. But it’s important to get it right from the start.
Train in safety methods
National Safety Stand-Down is a perfect time to train your employees. Talk about the hazards of the job. Share yearly safety rules one more time. Sometimes employers push safety to the side. They want to focus on work or productivity. But workers are the greatest asset of any company. And OSHA is there to help prevent injuries and illnesses on the job.
An employee’s responsibility
“The employer has a responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace,” McDonald stated. However, employees have a responsibility too. They need to take safety seriously. Why? Because of their families. A safe workplace means that they return to their loved ones every night. Employees should ask themselves questions like:
- Do I have the equipment I need?
- Do I know how to use the safety equipment and measures given to me?
- Is there more training I need?
Every employee has an obligation to protect themselves and their coworkers. See a buddy skipping the safety steps? A coworker who regularly cuts corners? Don’t look the other way when spotting something wrong. Incidents can have a huge impact on an employee. But witnessing an incident you could have stopped can too.
Getting your stand-down started
This year may be the first time an employer participates in the National Safety Stand-Down. And that’s okay! There are dozens of resources available to make the event a success in the workplace. McDonald recommends starting with the OSHA website.
Find educational materials and resources there, including posters, factsheets, and other training materials. Look for events going on in the community and online national events. Moreover, some employers even send safety posters home for the kids of employees. They are often quick to remind mom or dad to stay safe at work.
Take inventory of what you’re doing. What do you need? What risks are employees facing? Start talking about them. Then, make a plan to address them. Now is the right time. If you need more specific help, or wish to discuss a workplace health and safety issue, contact OSHA toll-free at 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA) or by email, or contact your nearest OSHA office.
Even if you can’t participate in National Safety Stand-Down this month, choose your own safety month. Take the time to address safety in your workplace. It’s important for workers to return home to their families safely. The goal is zero fall incidents and injuries – and it can be reached.