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Tom Methvin
Tom Methvin
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Preventing falls of workers

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Beasley Allen Law Firm currently represents a man who worked for a company that installed communication satellites. Our client was contracted to install a communication satellite in a truck terminal in North Alabama.

Our client and his co-worker had never installed a satellite dish on top of a structure, but instead had always installed the dishes on the side of the building. Because this structure had a metal roof with skylights, the satellite dish was to be placed through the middle of the metal roof at the trucking terminal. Our client had never been on this structure before. The roof and skylight had been exposed to weather elements so long that the skylight could not be distinguished from the roof. While pulling cable from the ground up a pipe through the roof, our client backed up and stepped through a fiberglass skylight panel. He fell approximately 20 feet and was severely injured.

In researching skylight falls, we were shocked at the vast amount of information concerning persons who had fallen from roofs or elevated places. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) performs investigations in this area. NIOSH suggests that employers, workers, building owners, skylight designers, and skylight manufacturers may not fully recognize or appreciate the serious fall hazards associated with working with skylights, roofs, and floor openings. As a result, skylights, roofs, and floor openings are often left unguarded or uncovered. Workers are assigned to work around these areas without appropriate fall prevention measures having been put in place.

Occupational fatalities caused by falls are a serious public health problem throughout the United States. The data we collected indicate that falls are one of the leading causes of traumatic injury and death in the workplace accounting for 800 deaths in 2001. During that same year, nearly 300,000 workers sustained injuries involving days away from work as a result of falls. While most of the injuries occurred in construction, a good number of injuries occur in other industries such as manufacturing, retail trade, and services.

During the 1980s the NIOSH attempted to prevent work-related falls by targeting falls from elevation through an in-depth investigation called Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program. This program was to identify factors that contributed to work-related fatalities and provide recommendations for preventing such events in the future. NIOSH identified unguarded skylights and roof openings as fall hazards, and offered strategies for fall prevention. OSHA has developed standards to prevent workers in general industry and in construction from falling through skylights, roofs, and floor openings. The OSHA general industry standard, which is found at 29CFR 1910.23(a)(4), requires that “every skylight floor opening and hole shall be guarded by standard skylight screen or fixed standard railing on all exposed sides.”

Generally, there are two methods of protecting skylights or roof or floor openings. If a skylight screen is used as a safety precaution, it is required to withstand a load of at least 200 lbs. on any one area of the screen. If a fixed rail is used instead of a screen, OSHA requires that a standard rail consists of a top rail, an intermediate rail and post, and shall have a vertical height of at least 42 inches above the opening. Our research in this area makes it clear that employers, building owners, and workers may not fully appreciate or recognize the seriousness of fall hazards associated with working near unguarded skylights and roofs and floor openings. Clearly, more attention by employers and building owners should be paid to the problem. Persons working in and around such hazards on buildings must be protected.

Source: Bureau Of Labor Statistics