As West Virginia University safety professional Mark Fullen states, its a lot easier for a home contractor to take five minutes to put on a safety belt or harnessthen to take five months or five years of rehab to recover from a fall off the second or third floor.
Its like everyone tells you,said Fullen, a former construction site safety engineer who now works as a program leader with WVU s Safety and Health Extension division.An accident really does happen in the blink of an eye. One second, youre leaning over to frame-out a window, and the next, youre lying on the ground.
Fullen wants to make sure the only fall contractors make is into the recliner chair at the end of the shift.
Thats why, in the weeks and months ahead, he and his colleagues will fan out across West Virginia for a series of workshops that will show workers how to stay grounded, even if they are 30 feet up, clinging to a roof or a wall.
The team also plans on presentations in construction-heavy locales across the northeast, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., along with Washington and Richmond, Va.
Janet Della-Giustina, a former safety inspector and Fullens WVU colleague, said this workshop is onethat wont make your eyes glaze oversince its geared specifically to home contractors.
Thats the beauty of it,she said.Its a DVD presentation with a ton of photographs of homes being built. Well take you through the whole process, from pouring footers to putting on the roof shingles.
And youll see,Fullen seconded,where people are doing things right, and where they arent. I mean, it doesnt matter what part of the house youre working on. The potential for injury is always there. I already used the example about the windows, and how if you stretch over, and you arent harnessed, you could fall. I actually know someone who did that.
The idea, Fullen said, isnt to be confrontational with contractors, many of whom are one- and two-person operations who hire out other independent workers as needed.
Its not that theyre out there deliberately skirting the rules,he said.We just need to show them that they arent going to lose any time by doing a much-needed precaution, like a belt or harness. I mean, its really easy to say,Hey, Ive been doing this for 20 years. I think Im gonna be OK.Well, thats when you get hurt.
There are annually 400 deaths a year in the United States from falls in all types of construction, Fullen said. That includes the big commercial jobs to the home projects. But its the residential workers who feel the gravity the most, he said.
In 1992, 84 workers died in falls from construction projects. By 2003, that number was117. That 20 percent increase over 14 years, Fullen allows, might not seem all that much.
But in other types of construction, the number of fatal falls was only up 7 percent in that same period.
Seven percent opposed to 20 is pretty serious and significant,he said.Thats why were so eager to get going.
The project was made possible by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and its Susan Harwood Training Grant Programnamed for the late OSHA administrator known for the standards she created to protect workers from all walks.
Spanish-language versions are also available, Fullen said, and if he has his way, other versions will be marketed to the weekend warriors who get hurt, too.
I was in one of those big home improvement stores a while back,Fullen said.I struck up a conversation with one guy who eventually asked what I did for a living. He got kind of sheepish. He told me he fell out his second-story bathroom when he was trying to put new windows in. I said,Sir, thats why I have the job I have.
Visit Safety and Health Extensions site on the Web,www.residentialfallsafe.org, for more information.