May 5, 2016
By Chris Lu
On Tuesday, I had the honor of standing with over 1,900 men and women and their employers at the MGM casino construction project near National Harbor to raise awareness of fall hazards at worksites. We joined the millions of workers across the nation that are taking some time away from their jobs this week to participate in the National Stand-Down to Prevent Falls, a weeklong campaign focused on preventing deaths and injuries on construction sites.
In 2014, almost 40 percent of all construction fatalities were fall-related. That means 345 construction workers never made it home after their shift because of a fall. And 345 families – wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers – never got to see their loved one again.
Visiting the MGM site was particularly meaningful for me. Last week, the Department commemorated Workers’ Memorial Day, the day each year that we remember and honor workers who have died or been injured on the job in the last year. It is a time for us to rededicate ourselves to the mission of preventing workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
On Workers’ Memorial Day, we were honored to hear from Duronda Pope from the United Steelworkers emergency response team. When a worker is hurt or killed, it is her job is to take care of that worker’s family. For the past 10 years, Duronda has helped hundreds of families in her job and something she said that day struck me: “I’ve seen too much pain, all of it unnecessary, because no matter what the cause of death turned out to be, there was always a way to prevent it.”
The fact is, fall-related fatalities are entirely preventable when employers take the time and effort to plan ahead, provide the correct fall prevention equipment and train each worker in the proper use of that equipment.
That is why in 2014 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched its first National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls. And last year, thousands of companies and more than 2.5 million workers organized and participated in stand-down events.
The week isn’t over, but already this year, thousands of businesses and organizations − from Whiting-Turner Construction, to YouthBuild in Boston, to the Mercedes Benz stadium project (the future home of the Atlanta Falcons) − are providing training classes and demonstrations on fall protection to ensure workers have the resources they need to stay safe on the job.
Workers shouldn’t have to sacrifice their lives for their livelihoods. We need to continue to raise awareness about fall hazards, educate and train workers on how to use equipment, and commit ourselves to preventing falls at construction sites. Together, we can ensure that at the end of every working day, every worker can go home safe.
Chris Lu is the deputy secretary of labor.