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Three-step plan for fall prevention in the workplace

Fall protection violations are the most widely cited of all OSHA violations. This is unsettling when one considers how falls are responsible for 15% of worker deaths in general and 33% of construction worker deaths in particular. Every year, work-related falls cost Minnesota and the rest of the U.S. around $7 billion in workers' compensation claims and medical care.

OSHA and three other government agencies have come up with a three-step plan for preventing fall injuries and deaths. It all starts with planning. Employers should know ahead of time when employees will be working on elevated surfaces. People can be injured or killed even 6 feet off the ground, so employers should not underestimate the safety risks in a given job. Elevated surfaces include ladders, scaffolding, cranes and trees.

The second step is to equip workers with safety gear. Fall protection gear becomes necessary when workers are 6 feet above a lower level, so employers should provide ladders and scaffolding to begin with. Different ladders and scaffolds are appropriate for different jobs and can become a hazard otherwise. When workers need personal fall arrest systems, it's important to ensure that they wear harnesses.

Training employees on the setup and use of fall protection equipment is the last step. Employers may also consider hiring a fall prevention expert to catch any hidden hazards.

Sometimes, it doesn't require a breach of workplace safety standards for someone to be injured in a fall. Fortunately for those who are injured, the workers' compensation program is designed to provide benefits regardless of who, if anyone, is held liable for the accident. These benefits should cover all medical expenses and a portion of the wages lost during one's physical recovery. Victims may want a lawyer to assist with the filing. If the employer denies payment, victims may mount an appeal.

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