Photo courtesy of AGC of America
Workers get a briefing on fall-protection equipment during a safety "stand-down" at a Washington, D.C., job site.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and construction industry and union groups are teaming up to raise awareness about jobsite protection against falls from height, the leading cause of construction fatalities.

OSHA has launched a program of “Safety Stand-Downs,” to take place during the week of June 2-6, in which companies halt work on projects around the U.S., to get briefings and reminders about proper equipment and jobsite steps recommended to avoid or reduce fall injuries.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said OSHA expects about 1 million workers to take part in the stand-downs.

OSHA’s chief, Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels, noted that in 2012, falls from heights caused 279 construction worker deaths and more than 8,800 serious injuries. He also said that a lack of fall protection is the most prevalent OSHA violation. Michaels said in a statement, “These falls cause enormous pain and suffering—and we must do everything we can to prevent them.”

He also said OSHA was teaming with a long list of construction organizations, including the Associated General Contractors of America, Associated Builders and Contractors and National Home Builders Association.

Among other partners are labor unions, including the carpenters, laborers, electrical workers, and ironworkers. Also taking part are the union-affiliated CPWR-The Center for Construction Research and Training, as well as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, state OSHAs and others.

Stephen Sandherr, AGC of America CEO, speaking on June 2 at a stand-down at a Balfour Beatty Construction project in Washington, D.C., said, “This is a week when firms bring construction activity to a standstill so they can focus exclusively on making sure their workers have the latest information and tools to ensure their safety.”

The stand-down included a hands-on demonstration by George Stallings, a partner with safety-equipment company Sales Solutions Inc., of fall-protection equipment. It focused on what Stallings called the “ABCs”—anchoring devices, body wear and connectors.

Sandherr said AGC will be analyzing each of the 806 U.S. construction fatalities in 2012—the most recent year’s data available—to identify “common threads” in those incidents, including those that result from falls. It will share the data with OSHA and any other interested parties.

”Our goal,” he said, “is zero fatalities and zero injuries.”

AGC also released state-by-state lists showing fatality and injury rates for 2012 and earlier years.

Dean McKenzie, deputy director of OSHA’s construction directorate, told the several dozen workers “I’ve been one of you guys,” noting that he had worked in construction for 35 years before joining OSHA.

“I’ve had a near-fall,” McKenzie said. “Scared the crap out of myself. Almost fell 40 feet. Took me about an hour and a half to get down off the beam I was on.” He added, “It can happen. It happens fast”

McKenzie said falls aren’t necessarily from extreme heights, noting that 21% of the fall-related fatalities in 2012 were from heights of 10 feet or less.

Richard Ryan, Balfour Beatty Construction vice president for operations, told the group at the stand-down, “The importance of events like this were really demonstrated over the weekend for Balfour Beatty.” He said a subcontractor employee, ironworker Jose Lopez, died from a fall from height on a company project.

Ryan asked the group to observe a period of silence for Lopez and his family “and remember that these challenges face us every day.”

According to a company statement, Lopez, 26, a worker at a $27-million hangar facility project in Jacksonville, Fla., died on May 30 when he fell from atop a 75-ft-tall roof.

Lopez, an employee of subcontractor IMC Steel Inc., was performing metal roofing work on the aircraft hangar structure when the incident occurred, around 3:20 p.m., said Balfour Beatty Construction, the project’s construction manager. North Carolina-based IMC Steel was working as a subcontractor to Mark Construction Co., according to OSHA’s Jacksonville office, which is investigating.

By June 2, OSHA compliance officers were conducting an on-site investigation at the Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) project, located at Cecil Airport, a former U.S. Navy air base. Brian Sturtecky, area director for the Jacksonville OSHA office, says the agency should have initial findings by June 6.

“This is a tragic incident that our organization is reviewing carefully,” Balfour Beatty said in a statement. The company added: “We are focused on supporting [Lopez’s] colleagues working on the…project to deal with the tragedy and we are trying to better understand what happened that led to his fall.”

ENR was unable to contact IMC Steel for comment. 
The 150,000-sq-ft hangar is being built for Flightstar Aircraft Services. According to JAA’s website, the $27-million project is being financed equally by authority and the Florida Dept. of Transportation.