Don’t Be a Part of This List

This is a First Look at a column to appear in the June 2019 issue of
Water Well Journal

By Thad Plumley

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration releases its top 10 list of violations every fall at the National Safety Congress & Expo.

The presentation, always well attended, begins with No. 10 and works its way to the top—or should I say it races to the bottom since we’re not discussing joyous winners, but the frequency of workplace accidents?

Fall protection was No. 1 last year, and don’t call me a spoiler when I say it will be first once again in 2019. Falls are first every single year. By a lot.

But why is that?

I don’t have to visit your office to know there is a section in your company safety manual detailing slips, trips, and falls. If you distribute an employee safety handbook to each member of your team as well, I know fall protections is there too. It’s also the subject of numerous sessions at state shows every year and covered regularly in workshops at the National Ground Water Association’s Groundwater Week.

Yet, there it is every year—fall protection, the unmovable object at No. 1 on the annual list of safety violations.

To put things in perspective, the violation finishing second in 2018, hazard communication regarding chemicals, had 2679 fewer violations. The number of violations between No. 2 and No. 9, machine guarding, is less than that.

In other words, fall protection is dominating the list—you could call it the New England Patriots of workplace accidents.

And let’s be blunt: It shouldn’t be on the list at all. OSHA summarizes the standard violated, 1926.501, as: Outlining where fall protection is required, which systems are appropriate for given situations, the proper construction and installation of safety programs, and the proper supervision of employees to prevent falls.

Is that really asking too much?

Making matters worse is a violation that made the 2018 list for the first time. “Fall protection–training requirements” was No. 8 with OSHA stating it covered: Training requirements for employees in regard to fall protection.

Shocking and, frankly, sad is the only way to describe that making the list. It is without a doubt imperative you are teaching safe habits regarding falls to your crew.

Going over unsafe or slippery conditions at a jobsite or in a shop must be discussed throughout the year. Detailing potential tripping hazards and the importance of using proper pathways at a jobsite and regular routes in facilities is a must as well.

So too are the safe practices when using handrails or ramps, carrying heavy loads, and most importantly, working in elevated positions. Ensure you are highlighting safety when using ladders and scaffolding on a regular basis. The most serious injuries from falls are those from elevated positions.

These are all topics that must be in the regular rotation of your weekly safety meeting and tailgate talks. Perhaps when that happens, there will finally be a new No. 1. Hey, even the Patriots lose sometimes.


Thad Plumley is the editor of WWJ and director of information products at the National Ground Water Association. He can be reached at tplumley@ngwa.org and on Twitter @WaterWellJournl.