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Objective: Falls are one of the leading causes of workplace death, lost work time, and costs to industry, particularly in construction. The public health burden of falls is significant, as approximately 25% of nonfatal injuries and 38% of fatalities in the general construction industry are due to falls. The goal of this study is to develop an assessment tool to evaluate fall safety in general construction and to evaluate fall safety among five skilled construction trades (i.e. electricians, painters, carpenters, welders, and roofers) throughout different stages of a new building construction project. The project is the new School of Public Health and Health Services building at The George Washington University at Washington Circle in Foggy Bottom, Washington, DC, being built by the general contractor The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company.

Methods: A comprehensive assessment instrument was developed through review of pre-existing assessment tools and modified according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for general construction, validated through inter-rater reliability by a panel of experts (including the on-site safety superintendent), and tested for on-site usability through a two-week pilot study. Data were collected using the GW Audit of Fall Risk (GAFR) instrument by a master's-level researcher through routine observation of the construction site throughout the five construction phases (i.e. concrete pouring, skin, interior rough end, interior finishes, and roofing).

Results: Collected data are organized in the GAFR assessment instrument into eight domains: general safety, guardrails, personal fall arrest, safety net system, roof sheathing, scaffolding, aerial lifts, and ladders. Observations are scored dichotomously as to whether or not it was observed, and if observed, whether or not it meets the definition of best safety practice (as noted in OSHA regulations). Though the study is still ongoing, the current collected data presents statistics on the prevalence of fall hazards, and the frequency of fall safety compliances for each of the five trades by construction phase.

Conclusions: Fall hazards in skilled trades have been understudied. This unique university-general contractor partnership capitalizes on the opportunity to ensure public health principles are being realized during construction. This presentation will include the application of the GAFR assessment instrument and the current preliminary results, highlighting the importance of observational assessment of worksites. Additionally, the lessons learned from the field assessments will also be discussed.


Presented at: George Washington University Research Days 2013.

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