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NIOSH Alert

BACKGROUND:

Occupational fatalities caused by falls remain a serious public health problem throughout the United States. Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries indicate that falls are one of the leading causes of traumatic injury death in the workplace, accounting for 13.7% of such deaths in 2001. During that year, 23 workers died in falls through skylights, 11 died in falls through existing roof openings and 24 died in falls through existing floor openings. Most of these deaths occurred in the construction industry.

Data from the BLS Survey of Occupational injuries and illnesses show that during 1999, nearly 300,000 workers in private industry sustained injuries involving days away from work because of falls. In 1999, an estimated 80 workers were injured in falls through skylights, 100 in falls through existing roof openings, and 617 in falls through existing floor openings. Most injuries occurred in construction, though many injuries occurred in other industries such as manufacturing, retail trade, and services.

During the 1980’s, NIOSH attempted to prevent work-related falls by targeting falls from elevation for in-depth investigation through its Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program. The goal of the investigations conducted under FACE is to identify factors that contribute to work0related fatalities and provide recommendations for preventing such events in the future. In 1989, NIOSH published an alert entitled Preventing Worker Deaths and Injuries from Falls through Skylights and Roof Openings. The alert identified unguarded skylights and roof openings as fall hazards and offered strategies for fall prevention.

The present alert updates the 1989 publication and emphasizes that workers, including young workers, remain at risk of falling through skylights and roof and floor openings. The focus in the updated alert is on increasing efforts to identify fall hazards and implement prevention measures for reducing serious injuries and fatal falls.

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