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The Dangers of Heights

Working at heights carries risk. About five American construction workers are killed every week by falls from heights, 251 of them in 2011 alone.

New data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) show you don’t have to fall very far for the fall to be deadly. In 2011, CFOI began collecting information on the height of fatal falls. In construction, almost half of the fatal falls (48.8 percent) were from 20 feet or less, 14 percent were from ten feet or less and some were even less than six feet. Only 21.8 percent of victims fell from more than 30 feet.

As might be expected, fatal falls from scaffolds and roofs tend to be higher (33 and 39 percent, respectively, were from over 25 feet) while fatal ladder falls tend to be lower (only 12 percent over 25 feet; 27 percent from ten feet or less).

Why are falls, even from six to ten feet so dangerous? The data show that the largest percentage of the fatalities are from head injuries (over 37 percent), most often, probably, from falling backwards off a ladder, roof or scaffold.

Falls are a major problem in construction and, specifically, for Laborers. In 2011, 62 laborers died from falls, about a quarter of all construction workers who fell to their deaths. For more information about fall prevention, go to the national falls campaign website:

[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health.]

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