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Developing a Fall Prevention Website for Residential Construction

10/10/2014

Seeing a need and finding a solution is at the very core of occupational therapy. For Vicki Kaskutas, OTD, MHS, OTR/L, FAOTA, the need was apparent the moment she reviewed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Guidance Document for Residential Construction.

“When OSHA changed its residential fall protection requirements, they published this document highlighting pictures of devices for each building stage. However, the device names or identifying information to help construction professionals find the device was not included,” Kaskutas explains. “It took many phone calls and several weeks of detective work to track down that information – something a contractor would not be able to do, especially when faced with an immediate safety concern.”

Improving worker health and safety through the study and prevention of occupational risk factors for injury and illness has been the focus of Kaskutas’ research for the past ten years. The Department of Medicine’s and Program in Occupational Therapy’s Occupational Health and Safety Laboratory studies the epidemiology of work-related injuries and illnesses in a broad range of work groups and the interventions needed to prevent and improve overall health in working populations. In this particular instance, residential construction workers needed a resource they could easily access and identify these devices from anywhere, at anytime – especially on the job site.

“I applied for and received a grant from the Center for Construction Research and Training through the National Institute of Occupational Safety to develop a website that demonstrates the fall prevention devices available to protect residential construction workers when working at heights,” Kaskutas says. “The project took 12 months of research, including contacting the manufacturers for their approval to use their pictures and product descriptions on the website. Twenty-six manufacturers were eager to participate and gave approval. We did not include devices made by manufacturers who chose not to participate in our project. ”

The Washington University School of Medicine research and website build team included Ping Lieser, PhD, Nina Smock, and Stephanie Wise, OTD/S ‘15. The newly-released website demonstrates 148 fall prevention devices and includes conventional methods of fall protection (guardrails, personal fall arrest systems, and safety nets) and other equipment (scaffolds, lifts, hole covers, and ladder accessories) that can improve safety when working at heights. Pictures of devices are demonstrated on a gallery page, allowing users who can envision the device a quick way to find the device they are looking for (top picture).

For each device, a description or purpose is listed as well as the stage of construction where the device could be used (installing floor joists, walls, floor sheathing, windows/doors, roof sheathing, roof shingling, and siding). The device page also demonstrates pictures of the device in use, installation instructions, manufacturer, vendors, and cost. Links to the manufacturer, installation instructions, and videos are provided if they are available (bottom picture).

Since the number of commercially available fall prevention and protection devices is growing, an advisory panel of members from the St. Louis and Greater Vicinity Carpenters’ District Council helped the researchers identify the type of features that should be represented in some categories. Local signatory residential contractors, union members, and carpenters instructors recently “tested” the website using their computer and mobile devices. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and Kaskutas is now concentrating her efforts in getting the website into the hands of consumers.

“OSHA has been very supportive of the project. I am currently working with Jim Maddux, OSHA’s Directorate of Construction, on ways to disseminate the information within their agency through website links and electronic communications,” Kaskutas says. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), and the National Fall Prevention Campaign are also posting links to the resource on their websites. Kaskutas has performed several fall prevention research projects in residential construction with Dr. Bradley Evanoff, Chair of the Division of General Medical Sciences, and the Carpenters’ District Council of the Greater St. Louis Vicinity. “We instituted some pretty innovative methods to teach carpenter apprentices to prevent falls, we just completed a project to help construction foremen learn how to use fall prevention and communicate these messages to their residential crewmembers. Since we have seen favorable results in these projects, we are applying for funding to turn the training into an online format to help small residential contractors nationwide integrate fall prevention safety into their daily operations. Falls account for the majority of residential construction worker deaths each year—if we can save just one person it is worth the effort!”

Visit the Fall Protection Resource for New Home Construction website at http://www.ot.wustl.edu/fptech/homepage.htm.

This research was funded by the Center for Construction Research and Training through the National Institute of Occupational Safety cooperative agreement OH009762.  

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