Falls from height are still a major cause of death in construction in the US

Construction is one of the most dangerous industries to work in, with 1.102 fatal workplace accidents in 2019. Construction workers often have to work at height to complete their work. Here they are confronted with a myriad of fall hazards. In 2019 711 fatal falls from height occurred at workplaces across all industries in the USA. 56% of these fatal falls to a lower level took place in construction, making it one of the leading causes of worker death in this sector. This is tragic, as falls from height are often preventable with the right training and equipment.

Between 2018 and 2019 there was a 15% increase of fatal fall accidents across all industries.

Previously we made infographics with data from 2013 and 2016, now we’ve updated our infographic to reflect more recent data, however not all data was available. Even though the numbers have changed, falls from height are still a major cause of workplace deaths in construction. Nearly 37% of all fatal accidents in the construction industry can be traced back to a fall from height.

Read more about why fall from height are a problem for your business in our blog about the costs of fall accidents.

Hazard recognition at height

The higher we are working, the more aware we are of the risk of falling and the consequences of said fall. At relatively low heights people often underestimate fall hazards. This is also reflected in the statistics as 61% of all fatal falls from height happen on elevations of 20 ft or lower. Falls from more than 30 ft account for 19% of fatal falls

Nonfatal accidents

Next to fatal falls from height, workers can also be confronted with nonfatal falls. In 2019 27.4% of all nonfatal occupational injuries were caused by Falls, slips and trips. Within that category 19.7% of the accidents were classified as falls to a lower level.

When looking at occupations where the most nonfatal falls from height occurred Construction is leading the top 5 with over a quarter of all the accidents taking place.

Most nonfatal falls have no height specified, but the incidents that do mostly take place at heights of less than 6 ft.

Many of the falls to a lower level result in serious injuries as 43% of the cases involve workers being away from work for 31 days or more.

Fall protection saves lives

In a research paper based on 32 years of data from the NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program researchers found that 54% of workers involved in a fatal accident had no access to a personal fall arrest system. Another 23% did have access to a personal fall arrest system, but did not use it.

Additionally if we have a look at OSHA’s most cited violations, the ‘Duty to have fall protection’ for the construction (29 CFR 1926.501)  is the most cited standard for 10 years in a row. From which we can deduct that many worksites either do not have fall protection, or are not using their fall protection equipment properly.

These statistics clearly show that there is much to win in the field of using fall protection.

Preventing falls from height

Installing fall protection systems, using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), education and training about fall hazards and the proper use of fall protection equipment, are some of the most important methods to use on-site to prevent falls from height. Training will help with correctly using the systems and PPE, and thus ensuring safety should a worker fall. Education and training will also help workers understand emergency situations and what their job is should one arise.

Incident statistics are lagging

We would like to point out that looking at fall accident statistics is necessary, but it can also lead to hindsight bias and a passive attitude to preventing incidents. After all, it is easy to point out what went wrong and what should have been done after the fact. While the situation may have been quite different in real life.

Combining incident data (lagging indicators) with site specific leading indicator data, such as PPE use  or near miss reports, will give you a much better view of fall hazards present and maturity of your site’s safety culture. This will also provide you with insight as to where accidents are most likely to happen and how to best prevent them from happening.

We’ve put together an infographic with the most recent fall accident data. For you to use as tool to raise awareness for the issue of falls from height. Or to use as a starting point for your company to improve fall protection.


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