Falls from roofs are a major cause of injuries and fatalities among construction workers. Such falls are preventable, and employers need to make greater efforts to protect employees who work at dangerous heights.
Roofing falls accounted for approximately one-third of the 6,591 fatal falls in the construction industry from 1992 to 2009, according to a study published by the Journal of Safety Research. Of the fatal roofing falls, 67% occurred in small construction companies with 10 or fewer employees. Residential construction workers and immigrants had high rates of roof fatalities.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently announced an investigation into the death of a contractor who fell 30 feet from the roof of a carpet and flooring manufacturing plant in Dalton, Ga.
According to reports, the contractor was conscious after the fall but suffered severe head injuries. He died on the way to the hospital.
Published reports did not indicate whether the man was wearing protective headgear at the time or what precautions had been taken to prevent an accident. OSHA is likely to investigate whether workplace safety violation contributed to the fall accident.
The risk of falls is especially great in the roofing industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that falls account for approximately 76% of all deaths in the roofing industry. Roofing workers are three times more likely than other construction workers to be injured or killed in a fall accident. Falls from high elevation are especially likely to result in fatal brain or spinal injuries.
Personal protective equipment can help prevent such injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires the use of personal protective gear or fall restraint systems for workers at high elevations.
However, it’s not nearly enough for employers to provide fall protection equipment. Workers also must be familiar with the equipment and trained to use it appropriately. Many fatal falls are related to the failure to wear protective gear or to malfunctions of protective gear.