A fatality on a job site is something I never thought I would experience. I’ve worked in architecture/construction/real-estate development for more than 12 years and a rusty nail through a work boot was one of the worst events I had encountered. I’ve been lucky. However, a roofing worker on a job site where my team recently was working lost his life and it was an incident that could have been prevented.
Our firm was hired by a client to act as an owner’s representative observer for a reroofing project. Thankfully (from a business owner’s standpoint), we were only hired to observe, photograph and document progress for the building owner. Our company was not the general contractor or the roofing contractor; therefore, we had no capacity to be in a supervisory role or have any say in means, methods or logistics of the roofing project.
The building was a high-bay industrial property that was due for a new roof membrane and insulation. Because the roof was fairly large in size and the weather was less than optimal, the roofing project was being completed in sections. Work progressed for several weeks in fits and starts and was generally behind schedule but was nearing completion.
One morning, in the process of what would seem to be catching up on the schedule, one worker became lax in using fall protection. Although the sections of the roof that were being stripped were cordoned off with flags, the worker was in an area that had a previous repair to the steel deck. A replacement section of steel deck had been used to cover up an old penetration or previous roof-deck repair. As the worker picked up a piece of underlayment, he stepped onto the replacement piece of steel deck, which had not been welded into place and did not overlap the hole any significant amount. As the worker stepped onto the replacement piece of steel deck, it slipped. Because there was little overlap, the piece of steel deck twisted as it slid and fell through the hole. The worker fell almost 30 feet to a concrete floor.
I’m not exactly sure what the survival statistic is for falling from that distance onto a hard concrete surface, but I can imagine that it struggles to reach double digits. Others on the site scrambled off the roof and performed CPR but, unfortunately, it was not enough to save the worker.
A recent study, “Fatal Falls from Roofs among U.S. Construction Workers”, from the Center for Construction Research and Training offers some startling statistics about roofing falls. From 1992-2009 nearly one-third of all fatal construction accidents were falls from roofs. The study states 76 percent of all deaths in the roofing industry are fall-related, and there is a higher incident of falls among foreign-born workers. Language barriers may be an issue in some instances. The sad fact is a good number of these fatalities could have been prevented with appropriate safety gear, clear communication and by avoiding cutting corners.
The construction field is a dangerous area where the risks of serious injury and even death are prevalent on a daily basis. The problem becomes worse when workers become complacent in their jobs; they know the associated risks but still make decisions that put them in harm’s way. I’m pretty sure the worker on this particular job site didn’t wake up that morning thinking it may be his last day alive. It’s just not something you think will happen to you until it’s too late.
Safety on the worksite should be the No. 1 priority of any company. Supervisors who are lenient about safety rules need to be retrained and held accountable for their job-site safety record. Above all, if you see something, say something. If a member of my team noticed this worker was not wearing fall protection, I would like to think they would’ve said something. It’s easy to dismiss reporting a safety violation to those in charge. Too often we think, “It’s not my job site; it’s not my employee; it’s not my problem”. However, someone’s life is at stake, and that someone deserves to go home to his or her family just like we do.