Falls are the number one killer of construction workers, accounting for approximately one third of construction fatalities. And most studies suggest that residential construction is even more hazardous than commercial construction. That's why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched a campaign to prevent falls in construction and why it issued a new, stringent fall-protection standard that took effect on Sept. 15.

For years now our research team from Washington University in St. Louis has studied fall prevention in residential construction, including both fall-prevention training aimed at workers and a fall-prevention technology lending program aimed at contractors. The technology lending program was designed to give contractors a chance to test new equipment prior to committing to a major purchase. Our research focuses on residential framing, so we focused on new technologies applicable to that sector, such as the WallWalker hanging scaffold, which is mounted on brackets fastened on the top plate of the exterior wall rather than standing on the ground. Many workers and contractors gave the device high marks, with some committing to make a purchase; others intended to inquire about renting one.

One of the major discoveries of our investigation was how unfamiliar the device was. Almost 95 percent of workers surveyed had never used it before, and two-thirds had never even seen one.

The finding suggests a significant role — and business opportunity — for rental equipment companies in advancing both OSHA compliance and worker safety. Residential construction contractors are being asked to take more responsibility for fall prevention on the jobsite but may not be familiar with many of the newest work platform and fall arrest technologies. Rental businesses can provide an important service by keeping abreast of both the regulations and the newest products.

Keeping a variety of fall safety and ‘fall-safe’ products in stock, and promoting their use, can aid your customers with OSHA-compliance issues, save workers from injury or death, and boost your bottom line.

For information on fall protection, visit www.stopconstructionfalls.com.

Bradley Evanoff, MD, MPH, is a professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. where he is active as a clinician, teacher and researcher. His research focus is preventing injuries and musculoskeletal disorders among construction and health care workers.

Vicki Kaskutas, OTD, MHS, is an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Her current research focuses on preventing falls from height by residential construction workers. She also performs work rehabilitation research and teaches occupational therapy graduate students.