Falls from elevations are among the most frequent causes of injuries at shipyards and other maritime facilities — and they are among the most costly claims.

While all slips, trips, and falls in maritime settings can be dangerous, falls from heights are more likely to lead to death or serious injuries that require significant medical care and time away from work. 

 “What makes it so costly is because so many things can happen from falls, especially from elevations,” said Woody Collins, senior loss control manager for The American Equity Underwriters Inc. (AEU). “In the shipyard industry, you’re building these large vessels on land, and you might have workers 50 feet in the air. If there aren’t proper handrails installed, or if the workers haven’t been trained in fall prevention from that vantage, they could easily fall.”

 Common Types of Shipyard Falls from Elevations 

●        Falls from Platforms: Falls like the one Collins described above can happen in shipyards where workers are on ropes, scaffolding, or other elevated surfaces. 

●        Falls from Ladders: He also noted that ladders are a frequent site of elevated falls. “It’s usually when the ladder just isn’t tall enough, so they stand at the very top and strain or lean to do their work instead of getting the right ladder,” Collins said. 

●        Falls into Open Holes: Collins recalled investigating an incident where a worker was installing a guard over an open manhole. The worker turned to reach for the guard, and he stepped backward right into the uncovered hole. “He fell into the very hole he was trying to safeguard,” Collins said. 

●        Falls in Motion: Workers may on occasion fall from vehicles like cargo trucks and forklifts that are elevated, which can result in significant injuries even at slow speeds. 

 Causes of Falls from Heights in Shipyards — and How to Prevent Them 

Most falls from elevation are completely avoidable and can be traced back to poor housekeeping or lack of quality training, Collins said. 

 Housekeeping is an easier thing to adjust: It just requires a vigilance for loose wires and other materials that could be a tripping hazard, plus the regular upkeep of equipment. But training can be tricky because it’s not about whether or not companies have safety training for falls (most do), it’s about the effectiveness of their training.  “A lot of times, that falls on management and leadership,” Collins said. “Managers set clear expectations on what they want in terms of production. But we also need to put the same priority and focus on safety, which begins with training.” 

 Collins said he believes safety training for specific shipyard tasks is more effective than broad, generalized training. Workers are more engaged in training that’s targeted to the needs of their particular job, which leads to a safer shipyard with fewer falls from elevations.

“Having employees who are engaged in safety makes all the difference,” Collins said. “What I encourage supervisors to say to their people is, ‘Here’s what I need you to accomplish today. Let’s talk about how you’re going to do it without getting hurt.’” 

 The AEU Longshore Insider blog features articles about maritime fall prevention and other topics: longshoreinsider.com. For more information on AEU, visit amequity.com

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