Construction sites are subject to all manner of rules and regulations. These rules and regulations, set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), are necessary for the safety of workers. OSHA’s rules regarding ladders and railways may seem unnecessary to many who are accustomed to working at dangerous heights and balancing on boards that cover gaping holes. However, when you consider that in 2007 alone there were a total of 835 deaths from falls and more than half of these victims were construction workers, you can see why such regulations are necessary. Further, an estimated fifteen percent of all occupational falls take place in the construction industry.
Consider your typical construction site. There are many workers carrying heavy materials, working heavy-duty equipment and working in numerous areas all crossing the paths of other workers. It is an active, fast-paced environment. Now, add in the fact that activity is taking place on height levels that can range from ground level to higher than 20 to 30 feet.
A study published in 2012 shows what kind of injuries occurred from different heights. These injuries were in addition to the death of the subject. Concrete was the landing surface in falls from a low of three feet to a maximum of twenty feet. At least one of the falls was a landing on hard soil from ten feet. Both surfaces are common on construction sites. Injuries included head trauma, broken backs, necks and other bones, and multiple cases of internal damage to organs such as the liver, kidney and spleen.
In all the cases listed here, the falls were fatal. This study showed that a fall from as little as three feet can result in death. This study did not list the number of falls that resulted in such things as permanent paralysis or broken bones that may have caused permanent disability. Knowing this harsh reality, it becomes clear why OSHA has requirements for handrails at any height of six feet and above. Regardless of how well a person’s balance happens to be, or how much experience he or she has had working at heights, it takes only one misstep of a fraction of an inch to end in tragedy.