How to Hold an Effective Safety Stand-Down

Mix it up to cover more ground and keep employees engaged.

May 6 marks the start of the fifth annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, a week-long event during which construction employers are meant to stop work briefly — 10 minutes, a half hour — to educate and remind employees about fall hazards and how to mitigate them.

Falls remain the leading cause of death in construction. How can you make the most of the stand-down to help eliminate them?

As Scott Ketcham, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Construction, noted in a Center for Construction Research and Training webinar, a stand-down session can take a variety of forms, including a toolbox talk, a video, a demonstration or an equipment inspection.

CPWR, The Center for Construction Research and Training offers a handful of fall-related toolbox talks in English and Spanish. (Fall risk is high among young Hispanic workers in particular, so be sure to communicate with them, and all employees, in a language they understand.)

To make the most of Stand-Down week, mix it up and do something different each day. Here are some specific ideas for what to do and cover. OSHA recommends choosing presentations and activities that will work best for your workplace and employees, perhaps based on any weaknesses in your fall prevention program or past incidents or near misses.

  • Demonstrate how to properly fit a body harness and do a thorough partner check — important since some pieces of the harness aren’t visible to the person wearing it.
  • Discuss how to choose good anchorage and tie-off points for fall protection equipment and remind workers not to put their entire weight on a horizontal lifeline while working.
  • Grab an extension ladder and demonstrate the correct 4-to-1 base-to-height ratio and where to tie it off.
  • Talk about how to recognize unsafe conditions. These are not always obvious, even to experienced construction staff.
  • Inspect any scaffolds on site with your team and point out the guardrail and other requirements you’re checking against. Falls from scaffolds make up 15 percent of construction falls.
  • Remind workers to use three points of contact when mounting or dismounting a vehicle, stable platform or ladder.
  • Launch the NIOSH Aerial Lift Hazard Recognition Simulator on a computer and see if one of your aerial lift operators can navigate the hazards and reach each target area successfully.
  • Conduct equipment inspections as a team. Among the equipment to inspect are harnesses (use OSHA’s harness inspection guidelines), lanyards and ladders.
  • Remind workers of their responsibilities. They need to adhere to the company’s fall protection policies and also inform supervisors of unsafe conditions when they see them.

Encourage questions and dialogue. The more interactive the discussion or demonstration, the more the information will stick.

Why a stand-down? Even if your employees have received adequate fall prevention training, reinforcing best practices helps keep those practices top of mind — and keep workers safe.

Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.

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