Mitigating Risk at Height

Author, Casey Craig, Account Executive, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.

Female and male house painters on scaffolding painting a building.

Industry Numbers

Falls from elevated heights are the single most hazardous injury within the construction industry; representing 38% of all construction fatalities (NSC construction & utilities). That is a scary fact if you are a painting contractor that works off the ground. In years past, it was common to see painters working on multi-story scaffolding with few controls in place, or working from ladders on top of trucks to get those extra couple feet needed to finish a project. Workers compensation underwriters have difficulty with risks that work over 30 feet. Why is this 30 foot threshold so critical to insurance companies who write workers compensation?

  • Across the entire Construction industry, 16% of all fatal falls happened from above 30 feet (NSC Construction & Utilities). 

  • In 2016, there were estimated to have been over 35,000 painters working in California and in total there were only 3 fatal falls (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

  • That accounts for less than 5% of falls, slips, or trips leading to fatality in all of California.

Mitigating Exposures: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Ladder/Scaffolding Safety

As with any business that is assessing risk, start by acknowledging the potential exposures of working outside. Besides utilizing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for work at height, the single largest exposure for any contractor is heat exhaustion. Making sure your employees are properly hydrated and shaded is easy to overlook and can have serious consequences. Fainting at height is a serious concern and any measures that can be taken to prevent this are essential. Requiring mandatory water breaks, encouraging employees to wear loose-fitting clothes, and offering shade and protection from the sun represents tangible measures that reduce the chances of an employee suffering from heat exhaustion.

Safety equipment has become more comfortable, lighter, and easier to store and transport. Working in the heat of summer makes it difficult for employees to wear heavy equipment. This can cause them to make numerous adjustments when they are in dangerous situations. Make sure employees have light weight harnesses and are wearing them as instructed. The best PPE in the world is useless if the employees refuse to wear them properly. Similarly, it is very important to test equipment one to two times a day to ensure it is functioning properly.

Proper ladder erection and maintenance is critical for working safely at height. The recommended angle a ladder should be erected is 75 degrees. New applications such as Niosh Ladder Safety or Angel Inclination can be utilized to ensure measurements are accurate. Regular jobsite walkthroughs and inspections are also important for scaffolding. It can be fairly common that other trade contractors move or alter existing scaffolding. From day to day, objects such as connections, planks, and railing can be moved by unknown jobsite visitors and can create new fall exposures. How your safety coordinator and/or superintendents inspect and re-inspect scaffolding can literally save lives.

Turning Safe Practices into Savings

We have shared a few key tips on managing risk at height. As you design (or re-design) your fall protection program, consider how effectively your insurance broker is translating this information to the underwriters involved with your account’s renewal.

  • Are they clearly translating how your company mitigates risk at height? 

  • Are they sharing key details that might separate you from another competitor?

  • Are they using this information to leverage competitive pricing with multiple insurance companies?

  • What does their information actually look like when it is sent out to an underwriter?

If these questions and this information are new to your organization, consider Rancho Mesa as an alternative. We can provide resources that can fully develop Fall Protection programs, training that can make your program actionable, and a partnership that ultimately builds the lowest cost of risk possible.

For additional information, please contact Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc. at (619) 937-0164.