Stand Down to Prevent Fatalities from Falls: An Interview with Oregon OSHA

Stand Down for Fall Prevention Image

Every year falls are on the leading causes of injuries and most importantly fatalities at work. And that’s especially true in construction.

That’s why OSHA holds an annual Safety Stand Down for Fall Prevention in the Construction Industry. Each year at this time, they hold training sessions, provide free informational materials, get busy on social media, and otherwise try to raise awareness of the scope of the problem and how to prevent these fall-related injuries and fatalities.

As part of the Safety Stand Down 2019, Oregon OSHA joins federal OSHA, the other state OSHA plans, numerous safety organizations, and countless safety-minded individuals in trying to create some awareness of the risks and hazards the come under the fall prevention umbrella and in sharing knowledge about how to stay safe at work–from a simple slip, trip, or fall at ground level to working at the highest elevation.

Craig Hamelund, an education specialist with Oregon OSHA, was kind enough to share an hour talking to us recently, telling us about the fall-related injury and fatality statistics nationally and in Oregon, highlight hazards and controls, telling us a little about what Oregon OSHA (as well as the Pacific Northwest OHSA Education Center and other related safety professionals) are doing here in Oregon, and sharing information about falls and fall prevention that are useful no matter where you live. We thank Craig and Oregon OSHA for his time and we encourage you to seek out or hold your own Safety Stand Down event this year.

We’ve transcribed the discussion and you can read that by clicking the MORE button. Or, just watch the video, which is immediately below. Also, know that that the bottom of this article, we’ve provided a free Fall Prevention Toolbox Talk Checklist based on an OSHA Fall Prevention Training Guide–it’s yours for free and it offers tips on toolbox talks for ladder safety, scaffolding safety, and roofing work safety.

Introductions: Craig Hamelund, Fall Prevention & Protection, and the OSHA National Safety Stand Down

Convergence Training:

Welcome, this is Jeff Dalto of Convergence Training back with one of our audio/webcast series. Today we’ll be talking about occupational safety. And we’ll be talking about fall prevention and protection, partly to line up with this year’s National Safety Stand Down related to fall prevention and protection.

Today we’re excited to have special guest from Oregon OSHA–Craig Hamelund. Craig is a guy I’ve gotten to take a lot of trainings with at various fall prevention and other training sessions over time. So I’ve learned a lot from him myself. And he’s the Occupational Safety Training Specialist with Oregon OSHA.

And with that, I like to say hi. Greg, how are you doing today?

Craig Hamelund:

Hi, Jeff, good to see you. You’re just as good looking on video as you are in person.

Convergence Training:

I was going to say the same about you. So that’s great to know we’re a couple handsome-looking gentlemen, thank you so much.

Craig Hamelund:

We can’t go wrong now, can we?

Convergence Training:

Nope. And thanks for being willing to talk to us about fall prevention and the Stand Down.

Could tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with Oregon OSHA and your interest in fall prevention before we dive in?

Craig Hamelund:

Yeah. Well, thank you again for inviting me to this interview. Again, I am Craig Hamlin with Oregon OSHA. I’ve been with Oregon OSHA now for 24 years come June. My goodness, time flies. It’s been a good gig. I’ve had a lot of fun doing it met a lot of great people both inside the organization and outside. I currently provide training internally to our own staff, both our enforcement staff as well as our consultation staff. When we bring folks in a lot of new hire training, of course for our compliance and consultation staff as well as refreshers, we provide a lot of training on revised codes or new codes or rules that we or federal OSHA promulgate, we’ll give our folks of course, some training and information on that, as well as quite a bit of outreach.

I’m still fortunate to provide a good number of breakout sessions or speaking engagements out there to the public, whether it’s organizational workshops or the fine conferences that Oregon OSHA co-sponsors, as well as other gigs, where I’m able to come and speak on behalf of Oregon OSHA. And certainly in line with fall protection and how important for protection is out there, both in general and well, in all industries–construction, general industry, of course, even forest activities and agriculture.

And, of course, in addition to all of the rules and regulations we have on fall protection, it’s just super important to get the word out and just start from scratch and help employers and employees identify those fall risks, help them through their pre-test plans and the planning that that should be there in relation to identifying those fall hazards and then going from there in determining the proper fall protection methods.

I did represent the enforcement side a number of years ago, I was out in the field as one of those enforcement officers that show up unannounced–and ironically it always happens to be the worst day for an employer when the OSHA person shows up on announced. But I did that a number of years both in South Carolina with South Carolina OSHA as well here in Oregon with Oregon OSHA.

And then 1998 is when I made the move over to education, both public education and internal education. So it’s been a great ride and I’m enjoying it. And for a handful of years here coming up, I intend to continue to do the best I can representing the agency and talking the good talk out there when it comes to occupational safety and health.

OSHA’s Safety Stand Down to Prevention Falls in Construction

Convergence Training:

All right, good. Thanks a lot. I’m really excited to have you on here. So before we dive in specifically to talk about aspects related to fall prevention, I wonder if you can just kind of, especially for people who aren’t familiar with the Stand Down, explain what it is and what it’s all about.

Craig Hamelund:

Yeah, it’s the Fall Safety Stand Down. I think we’re in the sixth year now nationally, and here in the Pacific Northwest out of the Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center, there at University of Washington with the help of AGC here locally as well as the fine folks from the University of Washington, Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center. Harvey McGill is our emcee at our event here locally. But for a handful of years now we’ve been dedicating most of the day to talk about fall protection, to provide training and information on those risks and those hazards out there, mainly in the construction industry. But of course, we can’t help but talk also about other industrial workplaces where those fall hazards exist.

We have hosted this now for about a half a dozen years. It is a national promotion. As matter of fact, I think it’s OSHA’s largest outreach event that they do specifically for the construction industry throughout the country. Here locally, we have been hosting this now, usually in early May, at the Sheet Metal Workers Training Center, local 48, in Gresham near the Gresham/Portland border.

And we’ve brought in anywhere from 50, 60, 70 attendees, mostly representing construction, but a good number of folks representing general industry as well, folks that do maintenance activities and whatnot that still face those same exposures to falls.

It’s a huge promotional efforts simply to get the word out. It’s to encourage employers, and contractors, and insurance companies, and the loss control professionals out there. And of course, most importantly, the workers and the employees to a dedicated day to think about those fall hazards, to emphasize the importance of fall protection, to emphasize the importance of identifying those fall risks and to get everybody involved in the Stand Down, whether it’s through a tailgate meeting or whether it’s through a luncheon. I know a lot of companies do a lot of different things.

Some companies will dedicate upwards of an hour, maybe providing refresher training on fall protection. A lot of contractors will bring in a local distributor or vendor of fall protection gear and have that vendor provide a trailer demonstration to actually show how the systems work. Again, a good number of other contractors will actually invite others on to their job site, and just make it a beneficial meeting for all involved. And again, the whole purpose is just to emphasize the importance of planning, and providing the fall protection, whether it’s personal fall protection, or more of the passive systems like guardrails or covers over holes and openings.

And then provide training and information and that reinforcement to the workers of how important this is, maybe share some of those statistics, share some of those true testimonials of workers who have been fatally injured or seriously injured when it comes to falls.

And again, the focus is in the construction industry, but we also like to kind of take it further and emphasize the importance to those other industries as well, where workers face those fall risks.

Convergence Training:

Right. So yeah, thanks for the Stand Down intro. I didn’t know that it might be OSHA’s biggest promotional outreach campaign, but I’m not shocked to hear that.

Craig Hamelund:

I believe it is, specific to the construction industry. And of course OSHA federal and state has their hands in a lot of different outreach. A lot of different types of promotional events and campaigns. But I do believe specific to the construction industry, Jeff, this is the largest one.

I believe that last year was the first one for the trench safety, the excavation Safety Stand Down. And I think that’s coming up right around the corner as well. So that’s one of the newer ones for the construction industry. But the fall Safety Stand Down, I think it’s coming up to six years. So it’s still fairly new. But it just seems to be getting better and bigger, more sponsors, more contractors, more distributors, more manufacturers are getting on board as well.

Of course, and so are more and more OSHA offices across the country, Oregon OSHA has been involved as well, not only with the local Stand Down that we do over there at the Sheet Metal Workers Training Center in early May.

But it also happens to be a day where we see a few more consultation requests from contractors to bring out one of our consultants on that day to talk about fall safety. And by the way, it’s not just that day, I’ve been plugging the local fall Safety Stand Down, and it’s on May 10 of this year, 2019, out there in Gresham, but actually federal OSHA dedicates the entire week. So the week of May 6 through the 10th, anytime during that week we encourage contractors to do what they can to reemphasize and reinforce the importance of identifying fall hazards and promote fault protection.

Convergence Training:

Great. Thanks for calling that out. So it’s really a week-long event. And hopefully, we’ll be applying those lessons all year round.

Craig Hamelund: Yeah.

Injury & Fatality Statics for Falls

Convergence Training:

So a lot of work is being done to raise awareness of fall prevention and protection. You mentioned some things about fatalities and statistics.

Craig Hamelund:

And the reason is, we have some bad stories to tell with the fatalities statistics.

Convergence Training:

Well, can you can you give us some information about that related to fall prevention?

Craig Hamelund:

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s been this way, unfortunately, for many years, Jeff, where falls are still the leading cause of death in the construction industry. And when you take a look at the total gross numbers of fatalities in all industries, of course, slips, trips and falls are up there. Any given year, it could be number two on the list or number three on the list. Transportation-related incidents are still number one in terms of the leading cause of fatalities in all industries, but specific to construction, it still falls.

As a matter of fact, I was pulling some numbers. If you don’t mind, I’m going to refer to some of my notes here if I can, if I can find them. Now I wanted to share just real quickly, Jeff, if I can both national statistics as well as Oregon statistics.

So for example, in 2017, nationally, there was a total of 5,147 recorded fatalities, and of those 5100 reported and compensable fatalities, 887 were specific to slips, trips and falls. Now of those 887, 713 of those fatalities from slips, trips and falls were falls to lower levels. Obviously more injuries come from slips and trips, not so much fatalities, but obviously more fatalities come from falls to lower level than injuries. And of those 713 falls to lower levels, anywhere from a few feet of elevation all the way up into 15 feet of elevation seems to be where the majority of fatalities occur. So right there between a half a foot or two, all the way up to about 15 feet of elevation, or from a lower level, is where most of the falls occur.

Now, specifically in construction in 2017, there were a total of 971 fatalities. So again, of those 5,100 fatalities, specifically 971 were in the construction industry. And of those 971 in the construction industry, 386 were slips, trips and falls. And of those 386, 366 were falls to lower levels. So again, about a third, or a little more than a third of all of those fatalities in the construction industry nationally, were falls to lower levels.

Here in Oregon, of course, our numbers aren’t as extreme as the numbers across the country, but still they’re way too many. In 2017, Oregon, received reported 35 compensable fatalities, and of those 35 fatalities here in the state of Oregon in 2017, a total of three of those 35 were false. Two of those three were falls to lower level. We actually did have a fatality of somebody slipping at the same level and fatally succumbing to that injury, but two of those 35 were falls to a lower level in construction. And of those two falls to lower levels in 2017, here in Oregon, one was specifically in the construction industry.

And that’s what we’ve been seeing Jeff, in the last few years: about one fatality in the construction industry here in Oregon. But one, of course, as you know, is still way too many. And when we’re only we’re looking at, you know, anywhere on average from 25 to 35, compensable reportable fatalities here in the state of Oregon, we usually see a few of those specific falls to lower levels.

So yeah, still way too many.

Common Fall Hazards and Risks

Convergence Training:

Alright, so good setup with data, and the numbers are huge. I’m not sure if I knew that at both the state level and federal level. So if that’s the magnitude of the problem, what’s causing these falls that lead to fatalities, what are some of the major actual things going wrong and the hazards?

Craig Hamelund:

You know, specifically when we look at the construction industry oftentimes, we immediately go to roofing practices and, not to pick on the professional roofers of the world out there, but unfortunately, we do see a lot of fatalities coming from roofing activities. Because when you think of it, whether it’s a carpenter or laborer or an electrician, at times, many times they’re working at elevation, but not necessarily all the time.

And by contrast, when it comes to the roofing trades, it’s not often they’re not working at elevation. Sort of getting in and out of their rig and, you know, and up to the ladder, but once they’re on the ladder, going up or down they’re working at elevation, so it’s no surprise of course, that we see a bulk of the fatalities coming from the roofing trades.

And then when you look at specifically, the equipment or devices, scaffolding, whatever workers are using to stage themselves to do work, they’re setting trusses, rafters, those specific work practices. We still see way too many fatalities of workers falling through holes, a skylights. As a matter of fact, we had another fatality so far this year early in 2019. Here in Oregon, a construction worker fell through a skylight. And nationally we see way too many fatalities of construction workers fall or maintenance workers falling through skylights or other types of roof openings.

There could be distractions, workers could be distracted, whether it’s a pitch roof or a flat roof, blind corners, they might be struck by equipment. Of course, environmental conditions. There’s tripping and slipping hazards up there already when they’re working at elevation, which promotes the opportunity of falling from the edge.

You know, typically we’re seeing falls just off of an unguarded edge. But again, with window openings, with roof openings, with skylights and other floor holes are floor openings, slips and losing balance.

Ladders unfortunately also play a significant role as well. I know a number of years when I was out there doing public education workshops, and specifically crunching numbers on fall hazards and fall-related deaths and injuries, it seems like ladders seem to always be up there. You know, they’re very portable. They’re very useful. They’re very versatile. But of course, ladders can also promote a lot of those dangerous exposures of falling to a lower level.

Convergence Training:

So in my own life, I graduated from college in Michigan, in 1989 or something, moved out west at that time, and my first post college-career was as a roofer. And I didn’t see any safety training. I never saw a guarded edge. I never saw a fall protection harness. I carried way too much materials up ladders. So I’d like to believe maybe that’s not the case today. Or maybe it is at some workplaces as well. So maybe things have improved there.

Craig Hamelund:

It’s better, Jeff.

You know, I go along with what you’re saying, the paradigm shift is still shifting to the better where we’re seeing…and I credit a lot to general contractors. Obviously, there’s a number of consultants, there’s a number of training providers such as yourself. There’s a number of distributors, manufacturer reps that are putting out the good word and the reinforcement of following safe work practices when it comes to workers working at elevation, but general contractors that actually make it a site policy of all of the subcontractors to abide by their expectations.

I know a number of general contractors that don’t look at trigger heights like OSHA does. Obviously, we have a number of fall protection-related requirements that require fall protection at certain trigger heights, that distance of elevation where the worker is above a lower level, where our rule kicks in requiring fall protection. Well, a lot of general contractors just don’t have a trigger height, it’s zero feet.

Whatever they want to choose, assuming that they’re still in compliance, of course, with their local OSHA requirements, a number of general contractors go above and beyond our requirements and just cap a site policy and require that of all the subs. And I think over the years through attrition and just through continual training, promotion, those kinds of things, it’s starting to embed a little bit in the culture there in the construction world. And for a number of contractors, both big and small. That’s all they know, if they have long been under that corporate policy of having more stringent fall protection requirements than what the OSHA requirements says, and they work in that culture and environment for a number of months and number of years, it kind of grows on them. And that’s all they know. And it’s a good habit. It’s a good habit at that point to practice and follow.

Convergence Training:

That’s good news that you feel like the culture is improving, it’s good for the contractors for being part of it. And I appreciate your point you made about the trigger heights and exceeding compliance requirements. I think that’s something safety professionals should keep in mind, is that compliance is the floor, it’s the minimum and we can all aim for compliance and better so that’s an encouraging word.

So if that’s why and where people are dying, are there special populations of people who are maybe more at risk?

Additional Populations at Greater Risk for Fall Injuries & Fatalities

Craig Hamelund:

Well, I spoke of roofers obviously, and because of their direct exposure to unguarded edges and sides, whether it’s a pitch roof, even flat roofs that basically we look at flat roofs, you know, up to 12 pitch or less typically is how OSHA defines a flat roof. You’re thinking, well, what are the fall dangers on a flat roof? Well, again, skylights floor openings, obviously working in close proximity to an unguarded edge in addition to maybe those distractions that could take their attention away.

But certainly when we look at pitch roofs, obviously now we have gravity taking effect, it’s harder, and even promoting more of the true fall exposure, the danger and the risk of falling off of the roof. Small residential contractors, obviously, OSHA has long had an emphasis for. Oftentimes when we look at small residential contractors, they may not have the resources that say the large general contractors do. Not to say that they’re not complying with our rules or they’re not providing equipment or gear, but just the continual promotion, the education, the training, they may not have the resources and the time that say the larger general contractors can in terms of the opportunities to provide that education.

So for a long, long time now, Oregon OSHA among other OSHA programs here across the country, have had emphasis programs on construction and fall hazards in construction with a close watch on residential construction. And of course, you know, as well as I that many of these homes that are being built, the single family townhouse type of construction stick-frame construction, the residential construction, whether it’s installing and setting the brace of the roof, setting and installing the rafters, the trusses, the sheeting, the roofing, , that’s what we’re going to really focus our attention once they’re working up there at that at that elevation.

You know, when you look at the statistics, obviously I mentioned earlier with carpenters and laborers and electricians, power line workers, iron workers, they’re all working at elevation as well. So, we don’t discriminate when it comes to a certain trade necessarily working at elevation, it’s just the danger of working at that elevation and even outside of the construction industry as well. We don’t want to forget other industries, whether it’s agriculture, or general industry workplaces, mill wrights, maintenance workers up you know, on a roof, up on ductwork, up in an aerial lift, up on scaffolding. You know, we just had a death a couple of years ago here in Oregon, where a mill wright fell from a conveyor.

So, you know, gravity and nature don’t discriminate. Gravity takes over and whatever piece of equipment or whatever structure workers are working from, the exposure to the fall is there, but in the construction trades, obviously, roofing, general labor type of activities, carpentry seems to be where a lot of our focus is.

Convergence Training:

Am I correct, I think in repeating from classes I’ve taken with you, that a couple of other populations that are higher risk, are (1) workers who don’t speak English as a first language or maybe don’t speak English period, and then (2) also maybe older workers. Is that true as well?

Craig Hamelund:

Well, you know, what comes with older workers, and I can speak on behalf of older workers when we think that we know what we’re doing because we’ve been doing it this way for many, many years. Well, what sets in is complacency, right? So oftentimes when we look at statistics, they will show us that more often than not that it’s the less-tenured worker, the new worker that receives the injury. A lot of the logic behind that is they haven’t been fully equipped, trained, educated, what have you. They could still be impressing or showing off to their supervisor that they can do the job so that justice sticks, statistics typically show that it’s the less-tenured workers that receive more of the injuries. But I agree with you, you then flip the switch to the other end, we have the more seasoned workers if you will, where they feel they’ve been there, done that, and they might be way too comfortable in their ways and complacency kicks in.

And going back to what you first started with, with the non-English speaking workers, we have a large, Spanish-speaking population here in Oregon, a Russian-speaking population here in Oregon. You know, the outreach has been there for many, many years. But you know, it’s still taking a little more time for a lot of those contractors, and especially the smaller contractors to get on board fully. And again, going back to the resources, the time, they just don’t have as much as say the larger players out there do. But we have seen a lot of a lot of success even in the smaller, the smaller contractors.

Matter of fact, I was watching a webinar just last night preparing for your interview here today. And looking at small residential contractors, again, many of them where English is not their first language, crunching the numbers much more specifically, employers of one to 10 employees, and then employers of 20 or fewer employees, represent about 70% of all the fall fatalities across the country. Yeah. And you know, granted most employers certainly here in Oregon are deemed as small employers, many more of them than the larger players. So again, Oregon OSHA’s emphasis has long been on you know, those smaller employers, just simply because that’s where statistics direct us to where we think we should be.

Convergence Training:

Well, obviously, they have a resource issue. And that’s the nice thing about this Stand Down is there’s all these events that other people are putting on. Other organizations, other companies, other associations, and the smaller employers can send their employees to these and other places.

Craig Hamelund:

There’s a lot of outreach out there. As a matter of fact, I just went onto the Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center’s website last night. They are the group that’s promoting the May 10 Stand Down here locally in the Portland area. And there are tons…I didn’t count because I think I lost count. There are so many links to campaign materials, outreach materials, whether it’s from AGC, NIOSH (the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health), the Center to Protect Worker’s Rights (CPWR)…there’s videos, there’s training programs, there’s toolbox talks, there’s tailgate tip sheets, there’s checklists, there’s training plans. OSHA’s website, Oregon OSHA’s website, I know you provide a ton of information along with the fall prevention products that you deliver. So there is so much out there that even the small contractors can attain at no cost and use. Absolutely.

Ways to Reduce Fall-Related Injuries & Fatalities

Convergence Training:

Cool. Okay, so we talked about populations that might be a greater risk. Could you tell us some ways we can reduce the number of all these fatalities?

Craig Hamelund:

Well, again, certainly we talked a lot about the importance of training and educating and informing the workers out there.

In addition, Oregon OSHA has long been a strong advocate for companies and contractors and employers to use voluntary compliance opportunities like our consultation program (side note from editor: see our recent interview with the head of Oregon OSHA’s VPP and SHARP programs), workers compensation, you know, whoever an employer is insured with on the workers comp side, they have lost control professionals that can be out there on the job site helping them. Again, if they have been working closely with a local fall protection equipment distributor manufacturer representative, having them come out and provide trainings specifically with the gear that they are using. Trailer demonstrations, a lot of these distributors will show up on a job site with an actual service truck or trailer and they will do drop tests to show how the systems work with the scale to demonstrate how much arresting force is created when an average-size construction worker is falling in that gear, and then we can further do the math and realize how much force is being created when other workers are wearing the gear.

And again, I credit again, a lot of the contractors out there who have taken upon themselves, whether big or small, to just continually promote through strong robust company policies, more stringent than OSHA requirements, just to ensure that everybody is in compliance and holding people accountable as well. It starts with the, obviously upper management, all the way down to the foreman, superintendents and supervisors on site. If they’re being held accountable to ensure that their workers are properly equipped, tight off protected from falls, they should be doing the same as well.

Well, and obviously Oregon OSHA is charged with holding employers accountable. That’s how the Oregon Safe Employment Act reads, of course, and that is our primary measure on the enforcement side is to conduct unannounced inspections to hold employers accountable, but then trickling down, of course, the expectation is employers holding employees accountable. And I mentioned earlier it starts at the upper management all the way through the ranks. But in the construction world, we have found, right there at the foreman, superintendent/supervisor level, if they’re out there displaying the best prac

Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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