Mention the words “construction worker” to most people and the picture that comes to mind is a trim, muscular male wearing jeans and work boots with a hard hat and a toll belt tied to his waist. In the case of ironworkers, masons and roofers, however, their ensembles would not be complete without some form of leather harness having metal clips to attach to a lanyard or some other form of lifeline.
This equipment is commonly referred to in the business as “fall protection.” OSHA defines personal fall arrest systems as a system used to arrest an employee from a fall from a working level above grade. A personal fall arrest system consists of an anchorage, connectors, a body harness and may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline or suitable combination of these. The use of body belt for fall arrests is prohibited under OSHA.
Section 1926.502 of OSHA specifies the types of and specifications for OSHA approved fall protection equipment.
For ironworking, and most other types of construction activities performed above grade, 15 feet is the height above which fall protection is mandated. The only exception to this is when the worker is working off of a properly designed, constructed and maintained scaffolding.
Statistics prepared by the National Safety Council, Association of General Contractors of America and various trade organizations place the number of serious injuries and deaths on construction sites due to falls at over 40,000 annually.
It is an unfortunate reality that although many more injuries and deaths are caused as a result of a workers’ failure to use fall protection than from not wearing a hard hat, safety managers on construction sites, while scrupulously enforcing the “hard hat” requirement, oftentimes overlook the fact that the worker is not wearing a safety harness. Without a harness, it is impossible to “tie off” to a beam or other type of support structure with the lanyard or safety line, which is the only way to prevent falls.
In my experience in handling construction accident litigation involving falls, even though it is the responsibility of the general contractor to enforce fall protection rules, if one of the subs falls and is injured due to a scaffolding collapse, the general contractor defends the lawsuit by blaming the sub for not utilizing fall protection, even though the lack of fall protection did not case the person to fall or when the fall was less than 15 feet.
Blaming the worker is oftentimes persuasive to the jury because juries have a bias against the trial lawyers and injured plaintiffs and are all too willing to blame the victim rather than the general contractor who has completely failed to enforce OSHA requirements on his site.
The lesson for the construction worker here is that just like the police officer has learned to wear his bulletproof vest when getting dressed for work in the morning, a construction worker should always slip on his harness at the same time he straps on his tool belt before leaving for work in the morning.
If you have been injured in a construction accident and would like to meet with me, free of charge, to discuss your case, contact me today to set up a free initial consultation here in my firm’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office.