Construction Safety

Fear of Falling: How to Keep Construction Workers Safe at Heights

Employers and insurers are engaging workers in OSHA's National Safety Stand-Down to help curb serious fall risk in the construction trades.
By: | May 9, 2018 • 4 min read

Here’s some uncomfortable math. As of March 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that around 4 percent of the U.S. population is employed in the construction industry. And yet, for the most recent reported year, that same industry was the source of 21 percent of all U.S. worker deaths.


More than a third of those deaths — 38.8 percent — were caused by falls. Non-fatal fall-related are also a serious concern. They are typically more severe than other injury types, often resulting in damage to multiple body parts, excessive time away from work, and often require short- or long-term disability leave.

Those facts are key drivers of OSHA’s annual week-long National Safety Stand-Down campaign, launched in 2014.

Now in the campaign’s fifth year, OSHA promotes the Stand-Down in partnership with numerous organizations including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Occupational Research Agenda, the Center for Construction Research and Training, the American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Safety Council.

Nationwide is among several insurers that promote the event among their clients. Nationwide’s data indicates that of the 10,000 workers’ comp claims it has processed over the past five years, more than 30 percent were related to falls from elevated surfaces.

Nationwide’s loss control services experts encourage insureds to engage employees in Stand-Down events. A Stand-Down event is simply a focused opportunity for employers and employees to talk about hazards, protective gear and strategies, and the company’s policies, goals and expectations related to fall safety.

Participation can be as simple as taking a break to have a company-wide toolbox talk or conducting other activities such as safety equipment inspections or discussing job specific hazards.

“These focused efforts — it’s really just asking employers to take a break, take time to talk about the hazards in the workplace, talk about the controls, talk about training,” said Mark McGhiey, Nationwide’s associate vice president of Loss Control Services. “It’s things they should be doing already, but it puts that hyper-focus on [preventing falls].”

With employment in construction and extraction occupations projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026 — faster than the average for all occupations — it’s wise for the construction sector and for all industries that have employees working at heights to intensify their focus on fall hazards.

With employment in construction and extraction occupations projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026 — faster than the average for all occupations — it’s wise for the construction sector and for all industries that have employees working at heights to intensify their focus on fall hazards.

Mark McGhiey, associate vice president of Loss Control Services, Nationwide

The 2018 Stand-Down campaign runs from May 7 to May 11. But companies that hold stand-Down events through June 30 are eligible to receive a certificate of participation from OSHA.

To help keep workers safe on a daily basis, Nationwide recommends that construction companies and contractors:

  • Develop written policies and plans to reduce the use of ladders, and make other safe options readily available.
  • Regularly inspect equipment and repair or replace it as needed.
  • Train workers to properly use and inspect mobile scaffolding and lifts.
  • Encourage conversation between employees and managers on implementing best safety practices when working on elevated surfaces.
  • Employ mobile scaffolds, scissor lifts or other elevated work platforms that are equipped with guardrails and additional protective gear.
  • Use rope, pulleys, block and tackle or other appropriate material-handling aids to lift materials onto elevated surfaces.
  • Provide podium stepladders, whenever possible, instead of standard A-frame stepladders.

Construction companies can also help increase employee engagement by suggesting they download and use NIOSH’s free Ladder Safety app at the Apple Store and Google Play. The app is available in English and Spanish.

Ladder Reduction Programs

Nationwide encourages its construction clients to reduce the use of ladders as much as possible. Mobile elevated work platforms such as rolling scaffolds, scissor-lifts or boom-lifts can have a significant impact on job-site safety.

For clients that haven’t yet acquired such equipment, or would benefit from additional units, Nationwide’s McGhiey said it’s often a matter of approaching them from the business owner’s point of view.


“By just switching out A-frame ladders to podium-style ladders, or eliminating ladders [in favor of] scissor lifts, not only does it increase the insureds or subcontractor’s or contractor’s productivity, it helps their overall safety. You can merge those two together and show a business owner that by doing things in a different manner than they’re used to, they can improve their profitability while improving their employees’ safety at the same time,” he said.

For an insurance carrier working with a client, it goes beyond being a risk management partner to being a business partner, said McGhiey. “Explain the impact on a company’s bottom line from a productivity and efficiency standpoint, then pivot them to understand how this is going to impact their employees safety.”

For Nationwide, supporting OSHA’s National Safety Stand-Down campaign aligns easily with the insurer’s commitment to educating insureds and supporting their efforts to reduce risk and keep workers safe.

“The biggest thing we can do is to educate, provide support and reinforce what is out there from a safety standpoint,” said McGhiey. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?


I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?


Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?


A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]