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

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

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

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

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

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.


R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

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

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

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

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.


R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

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

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

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

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

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

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &

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