Anatomy of a Fall

Anatomy of a Fall

Anybody that comes in even the briefest of contact with the world of occupational safety knows that fall protection is a hot topic.

There are blogs, social media groups, and even entire companies dedicated to it. Falls have been at or near the top of the list for occupational fatalities for years. Rather than getting better over time, the number of fatalities due to a fall is rising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s most recent data, occupational fatalities due to a fall to a lower level rose 11% from 2013 to 2014. So why do falls remain this great, mysterious thing? If employees understood where and why they happen, what could be done to prevent them, falls could be eliminated, right? Understanding the fall itself can help prevent them. So let’s look at one step-by-step.

Prior to the Fall

Work is proceeding as usual, you’ve had your morning meeting, schedules have been reviewed. It’s during this time, however, that a bad decision is made. It’s at this point that you choose to climb onto your inventory picker forklift and do so without your personal fall arrest system. There may have been a few options for why. Maybe you weren’t trained in fall protection and a) don’t know you’re supposed to have fall protection or b) are unsure of how to properly use it.  Maybe your manager knew that precautions weren’t in place, but put production ahead of safety. It could be that you did bring your harness and lanyard but didn’t bother to hook up to the anchor point. Falls happen due to a lack of planning or forgetfulness more than anything else.

The Moment of The Fall

Some people don’t feel it necessary to use fall protection while working at heights, you’ll hear such things as, “I’ve done this for years and have good balance,” or, “If I was going to fall I’d catch myself.” Losing your balance often has nothing to do with a fall, agility and fast reactions aren’t enough. Sometimes the equipment shifts, or you’re struck by a falling object. Maybe even a medical condition you did not know about causes you pass out or get lightheaded. The fact of the matter is, balance means nothing against and equipment malfunction or load that went astray. Balance won’t save you when the moment of fall was probably one that you never saw coming.

The Impact

The truth of the matter is, the results of impact aren’t pretty. If you are “lucky” enough to survive a fall, you could be facing medical issues for the rest of your life. A fall can break bones, rupture internal organs, cause concussions or another brain injury, and result in paralysis, a coma, or other permanent disabilities. It doesn’t take a long fall to create medical havoc. According to one NIOSH study, more than 25% of all fatalities were the result of a 6 to 10-foot fall from a ladder. That’s like walking blindly off an unsecured dock or the back of a delivery truck. Walking away unharmed from a significant fall is unlikely.

The Aftermath

People scrambling to call 911. Others rushing to your aid. Some will be frozen in disbelief. You coworkers are most likely not thinking clearly and may be putting themselves or others in danger while reacting to what just happened. This is not their fault, just human behavioral nature. In the panic to help, operators of other lifts may leave equipment unattended. As co-workers rush to help they may be traversing unsafe areas to get to you, possibly being exposed to the same fall risk that happened to you. Let’s not forget the devastating effects to your family from receiving the call, regardless if the fall was fatal or not. Worst case scenario, your spouse and children, family, and your friends will be devastated. Counseling will be needed for many of them as well as co-workers. For survivors, falls are life changing. If you’re able to work at all, you may never be able to work in your field again. Psychological issues are prevalent and marriages can fall apart. A fall affects much more than just the well-being of the person involved.

The moment of impact may seem like the end, but it’s really just the beginning. The fall may have involved just one person at first, but when all is said and done, dozens are affected. ALL of this is preventable. Being educated on the dangers and how to utilize equipment properly. A willingness to do what’s right the right way, not what’s cheapest or quickest. It’s been proven that falls can and do take a dramatic toll on personal lives and businesses. It’s also been evident that almost all falls are preventable as long as management and workers take the time and precautions to keep the jobsite as safe as possible.

 

Jef Spencer

HFA Operations

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