JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Nearly 3,500 falls on the job cost the Air Force 42,000 work days – and the lives of 13 people – during the five-year period that ended with fiscal year 2016, according to the Air Force Safety Center.
In an effort to confront this safety issue, the Air Force is sponsoring its Fall Prevention Focus May 8-19, a partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Institute for Occupational Safety’s National Safety Stand Down.
“The purpose of the Air Force Fall Prevention Focus is to raise awareness of fall prevention for the entire Air Force: active duty, civilians, Air National Guard members, reservists, contractors and family members,” said Travis Kilpack, 502nd Air Base Wing occupational safety manager. “Whether it’s a fall from heights or a slip, trip and fall, everyone will benefit by spending some time discussing fall prevention and protection.”
Everyone is susceptible to falls – not just those whose jobs require them to work at heights, Kilpack said.
“While great attention is given to workers who are climbing towers, working in lift baskets and working at heights, the vast majority of injuries from falls are falls from the same level,” he said. “For instance, falls from a trip while walking cause significant injury every year.”
Most falls from heights result from noncompliance or inadequate training, said Bill Parsons, Air Force Occupational Safety chief.
“It’s incumbent upon every Airman, supervisor and senior leader to ensure our workforce is aware of all mishap prevention requirements, have the proper equipment to prevent falls and know how to use the equipment properly,” he said. “We need to remind everyone that appropriate risk management and a little common sense can drastically reduce the number of injuries from slips, trips and falls.”
Safety equipment and regular inspections play a major role in preventing falls, Kilpack said.
“Workers who work at heights are trained in the use of fall protection harnesses, lifts, scaffolds and other safety equipment,” he said. “Safety inspections by facility managers, safety managers, supervisors and workers frequently identify areas that need to be protected or repaired to prevent slips, trips and falls.”
Workers should also protect themselves by paying attention to their surroundings and being mindful of their equipment and protection devices, Kilpack said.
“As safety inspectors, we often see workers who know they need a fall protection harness while in a lift or on a roof, but who choose to take a shortcut and not wear the equipment,” he said. “We also see areas such as loading docks and elevated platforms that have railings or need railings. Make sure the railings are up or closed when not in use.”
Kilpack advised taking measures such as installing railings in areas that are above 4 feet in height, inspecting ladders and other equipment for damage, reporting tripping hazards and keeping walkways and other areas clear of clutter.
“Many fall accidents are caused by someone tripping over something left in a walkway,” he said. “One injury accident I recall was from a worker tripping over a file cabinet drawer left open, resulting in a severe leg fracture.”
The Air Force Safety Center recommends that units spend some time discussing fall prevention during the Air Force Fall Prevention Focus campaign, Kilpack said.