Washington- A 61-year-old siding contractor died when he fell 23 feet from an apartment building balcony. On the day of the incident, he was working as a subcontractor at an apartment complex under construction.
He and two other employees were installing trim and soffits on the exterior of the building. He was working alone on a third-floor balcony of the building preparing to install a soffit. He climbed a 4-foot stepladder to measure a part of the soffit that extended out beyond the balcony and its temporary wooden guardrails. In order to position himself, he took one foot off the stepladder and placed it on the top guardrail.
The guardrail came loose and he fell off the balcony, landing on a concrete sidewalk below. EMS responders took him to a hospital where he died.
Investigators determined that the temporary guardrails on the balcony, and many others throughout the five-building development, were improperly installed by a framing contractor. The original guardrails on the incident balcony had been removed by a siding contractor and his employees so that they could install moisture barriers on the building exterior. When they replaced the guardrails, they also did so improperly.
The project general contractor did not ensure that the guardrails were installed and maintained in a safe manner.
According to Washington’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program, which tracks all work-related acute trauma fatalities in Washington State:
- General contractors have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their worksite, not only for their employees but also for subcontractors and their employees. See WRD 27.00;
- Employers must develop a written fall protection work plan including each area of the workplace where the employees are assigned and where fall hazards of 10 feet or more exist. See WAC 296-155-24611(2);
- Employers must ensure that appropriate fall protection is provided, installed, and implemented when employees are exposed to fall hazards of 4 feet or more to the ground or lower level when on a walking/working surface. See WAC 296-155-24609; and
- Conduct walk-around safety inspections of job sites. See WAC 296-155-110(9).
FACE investigators concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences:
- General contractors should convey firm expectations for using fall protection to employees and subcontractors before the job starts. During the job they should visit sites to monitor for compliance and take corrective action;
- All contractors should ensure that appropriate fall protection is used by workers; and
- Consider using safer alternatives to ladders for working at height, such as a mobile baker scaffold with guardrails or a portable lift platform.