People fall, and they die. Every day, in and outside the construction sector, from six feet above ground or 10 feet or 100 feet, falls are maiming and killing workers seemingly all of the time. This is despite the knowledge we have of best practices to protect employees, and despite the newest gadgets meant to protect workers from death.

Construction is a tough and dangerous business, a fact its workers take pride in, and so falls and other accidents can be viewed as inevitable. But they’re not. They are preventable with training and the right equipment being used by healthy, knowledgeable workers.

I’ve written many times for ENR about fall safety violations, deaths of workers laboring at great heights (so you and I can pluck away at our computers and gaze at this backlit wonder of a pseudo-newspaper story), and of falls that kill. My very first series of stories for ENR covered the death of Pittsburgh ironworker Paul Corsi, Jr., who was killed when the 13th truss being erected at Pittsburgh’s convention center collapsed.

You know what separated Corsi and others climbing the steel from certain death? Using the proper nut-bolt combination to connect the girders on which they were climbing. But that didn’t happen, and Corsi died young and other workers were injured and irreparably damaged because of that one seemingly small error.

I’ve seen falls happen to people I respected and people I’ve loved. And I’ve had a few falls myself; near misses that have made me think maybe there’s something to this Guardian Angel thing. And so I get angry sometimes when I see firms flouting fall safety regulations as if these lifesaving rules don’t matter, because it’s like they’re saying people’s lives don’t matter.

Apparently, some just don’t get the message until they are smacked in the face with it. So, OSHA recently slapped Painting & Decorating, Inc., a Ronkonkoma, N.Y. contractor, with $460,000 in proposed fines for fall safety violations after inspecting a work site in Manhasset.

"The sizable fines proposed reflect the ongoing failure and refusal by this employer to provide basic safeguards for its employees. Workers have repeatedly been exposed to deadly or disabling falls and crushing injuries," said Anthony Ciuffo, OSHA's Long Island, N.Y. area director. "In this case, workers were exposed to falls of more than 26 feet.”

During this inspection—the sixth Painting & Decorating, Inc. jobsite to be inspected by OSHA in the past several years—OSHA officials apparently got angry, too, or at least lost their patience. Inspectors say that they found several fall and scaffolding hazards, many of which were similar to those cited previously during OSHA inspections of five other Painting & Decorating work sites.

The hazards OSHA found include not having the scaffold self-inspected for defects by a competent person during scaffold erection and before workers began to work on the scaffold; missing cross-bracing and planks in scaffolding; no safe means for workers to access the scaffold; lack of fall protection for the employees working on the scaffold; scaffolds not restrained against tipping; lack of protective helmets; and no protection to prevent objects from falling onto workers from the scaffold.

Unless the contractor wins an appeal or negotiates successfully for lower fines, those failures may cost Painting & Decorating 10 repeat citations totaling $429,660. A repeat violation exists when an employer has been cited previously for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any of its facilities in federal enforcement states within the last five years. Between 2008 and 2010, OSHA cited Painting & Decorating, Inc. for similar hazards at work sites in Kings Point and Great Neck, which are on Long Island, and in Forest Hills in New York City.

OSHA's inspectors also say they found new hazards, including a lack of fall protection for workers erecting the scaffolding; scaffold erected on unsound footing; workers climbing the scaffold's cross bracing during erection; and lack of eye protection. Those hazards netted the firm five serious citations costing a potential $30,690 in fines. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

“Falls are the leading cause of death in construction work and can be prevented by adhering to basic, common sense and legally required safeguards,” Ciuffo said.

Stay tuned. We’ll be keeping an eye on this one.