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

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

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