By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

In what appears to be part of OSHA’s ongoing campaign to prevent fall accidents and injuries, OSHA’s Region V announced earlier this year a Local Emphasis Program to address Fall Hazards in General Industry and Construction.

The Emphasis Programs provides the “basis for scheduling and conducting safety inspections of construction and general industry workplaces where fall hazards have been alleged and/or identified.” Additionally, “construction inspections may be expanded to comprehensive inspections of multi-employer sites in accordance with the guidelines established in the Field Operations Manual.”

According to the OSHA news release, “in 2010, more than 10,000 construction workers were injured as a result of falling while working from heights, and another 255 workers were killed.” The new Emphasis Program indicates that “accidents relating to falls from elevations are one of the leading causes of serious injuries and fatalities. In Region V, over a five year period (FY 2007 – FY 2011), there have been 147 fatalities resulting from falls from elevations. Of those, the most, 31, resulted from work on ladders.” The Emphasis Program allows Area Directors “the authority to upgrade non-formal complaints alleging serious fall hazards.” Also to be monitored closely will be the unsafe use of portable or fixed ladders.

The Emphasis Program is intended and designed to increase inspection and enforcement activity. The Agency also expects the program to provide incident tracking, enhance training and outreach, and a means of conducting enhanced outreach on ladder safety. As part of the outreach, OSHA has recently published a number of guides and videos, including “Falling Off Ladders Can Kill: Use Them Safely,” “Preventing Falls in Construction,” and “Prevention Videos (v-Tools) – Construction Hazards.”

While this Emphasis Program is currently restricted to OSHA’s Region V, OSHA’s broader Fall Prevention Campaign is not so limited. Industries across the country in this targeted group should take note of this. If your business, whether in general industry or construction, involves potential fall hazards and the use of portable or fixed ladders, then now would be a good time to consider whether your processes, policies, and training programs would pass an OSHA inspection.