If you have seen this month's survey on safety practices, then you probably figure this blog entry was planned to coincide with it. In fact, it's kind of an accident (no pun intended) that I am writing about safety now. The survey was written weeks ago and it wasn't until the other day, when I received a newsletter from NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) that I starting thinking about construction falls.

The newsletter contained a link to a paper that was presented at the 2010 International Conference on Fall Prevention and Protection, which was held last May in Morgantown, WV. The title caught my eye because it referred to a new technology that could be used to prevent ladders from slipping sideways on the wall. I thought it might be sticky pads that go on the end of the ladder but it turned out to be something called controlled electroadhesion, which uses opposite charges to form temporary bonds between various materials. This technology is pretty out there – one of the things its developer used it to make was a robot that can climb walls like Spider Man. The military may be getting this technology but I wouldn't expect to see it on jobsites any time soon.

So what's the tie in for contractors? Well, there were many more papers presented at the conference, a number of which were about construction falls. It probably won't surprise you to hear that you are in a dangerous profession. During the period of 2003-2006 a total of 4,864 people were killed in construction, a third of them from falls to a lower level. The trades with the highest rates of fatal falls were ironworkers, roofers, and construction laborers.

Most fatal falls are suffered by tradespeople who are between 25 and 54 years of age, which is not surprising given that the majority of construction workers are in that age group. What I didn't expect to hear was that the youngest and oldest members of that group were the most likely to suffer fatal falls. I don't have any statistics to back this up, but I bet the same would be true of other kinds of jobsite accidents and not just the fatal ones.

The interpretation I would offer is that when it comes to safety, younger tradespeople don't always know any better and are sometimes afraid to say no when someone in a position of authority tells them to do something dangerous. Older tradespeople usually know better, but they get careless or lose their edge because they are physically tired. That pretty much sums up the accidents I had in my construction career, the early ones were due to stupidity and the later ones due to distractedness.

This is a natural time of year to be thinking about next year. If you're the kind of person who makes New Year's resolutions, then let me suggest that you save room on your list (after the resolution about losing 10 pounds or not taking jobs you can't make money on) for a resolution about following good safety practices whenever you are on the jobsite.