Drywall Mechanic Dies After 10-Foot Fall From an Open-sided Floor--South Carolina
A 20-year-old male drywall mechanic (the victim) died after falling about 10 feet from an open-sided second floor landing and striking his head on a concrete floor. The victim was working alone sanding a ceiling constructed of sheetrock. The victim was operating a sander and apparently unaware of his position in relation to the open-sided floor. He was observed by a trim carpenter from another company, stepping/falling off the landing as he sanded the ceiling located over the second floor landing. The victim fell about 10-feet, hitting the concrete floor face first. The carpenter notified his foreman who called 911. The emergency medical service (EMS) arrived in less than 10 minutes and transported the victim to the local hospital, where he died 20 days later. NIOSH investigators concluded that, to prevent similar occurrences, employers should:
- provide adequate guarding for open-sided floors, platforms, and runways
- develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive written safety program
- routinely conduct scheduled and unscheduled workplace safety inspections
- utilize contract language that requires subcontractors to implement a site-specific safety and health program prior to the initiation of work
- encourage workers to actively participate in workplace safety.
On March 14, 1994, a 20-year-old male drywall mechanic (the victim) died of injuries sustained in a 10-foot fall from an open-sided second floor landing on February 22, 1994. On April 21, 1994, officials of the South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration (SCOSHA) notified the Division of Safety Research (DSR) of this fatality, and requested technical assistance. On May 18, 1994, a safety specialist from DSR investigated and reviewed the incident with the subcontractor on the job and the SCOSHA compliance officer assigned to the case. The county coroner’s report was obtained during the investigation.
The employer had been in business for about 15 years and employed four workers, three of whom were drywall mechanics. The employer had no written safety program or procedures; however, 2 or 3 days prior to the incident the contractor and subcontractor walked through the jobsite (no guard rails were present at that time). Training was provided on the job, and personal protective equipment was not required by the employer. The day of the incident was the victim’s first day back on the job after a 6-month layoff. This was the first fatality experienced by the employer.
The jobsite was located at a housing subdivision which consisted of single family homes in various stages of construction. The general contractor had sub-contracted much of the work to various other contractors. At this particular jobsite, the frame carpenter crew, trim carpenters, and the dry wall suppliers had been sub-contracted. The dry wall supplier had sub-contracted the hanging and finishing of sheetrock to the employer of the victim. Two or 3 days prior to the incident, the employer had conducted a walk through inspection of the house with the drywall supplier. At that time, the second floor landing and hallway were seen not to have any guardrails present. Guardrailing had been installed during the framing phase of construction, but had subsequently been removed to allow the movement of supplies (e.g., doors, windows, sheetrock, etc.), from the ground floor to the second floor level. The crew, with the exception of the victim, had been working at the jobsite for 1 week prior to the incident. This was the victim’s first day back to work after a 6-month layoff.
On the day of the incident, the crew arrived at the jobsite around 8 a.m. to finish sanding the sheetrock. Two employees were assigned to work in the garage, and the victim and his co-worker were assigned to sand sheetrock in the house at the second floor level. The co-worker was sanding sheetrock inside a closet, while the victim was sanding the ceiling above the second floor landing. About 10:30 a.m., a trim carpenter who was nailing windows in a different area on the second floor ran out of nails. As he was going down the stairway he saw the victim step/fall off the open-sided area of the second floor landing. Apparently the victim was unaware of his position in relation to the open-sided floor and stepped or fell off the unguarded open-sided floor landing. The victim fell about 10 feet, striking the concrete floor face first. The carpenter ran to inform his foreman as to what had occurred and the foreman called 911. The EMS arrived in less than 10 minutes and stabilized and transported the victim to the local hospital, where he died 20 days later.
CAUSE OF DEATH
The coroner’s report listed the cause of death as closed-head injury.
Recommendation #1: Employers should provide adequate guarding for open-sided floors, platforms, and runways.
Discussion: The victim was using an electric sander while sanding sheetrock located above an unguarded open-sided second floor landing. In this incident, where several employers were working at the same jobsite, the general contractor has the responsibility of insuring that all open-sided floors are protected at all times. Although initial guardrailing was installed, it was subsequently removed to move supplies to the second floor level. Providing standard guardrailing as required by CFR 1926.500 (d)(1)(i) may have prevented this incident from occurring. NOTE: Following the incident, the general contractor had temporary guardrails reinstalled around the open-sided floor areas.
Recommendation #2: Employers should develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive written safety program.
Discussion: The employer did not have a written safety program. The development, implementation, and enforcement of a comprehensive safety program should reduce and/or eliminate worker exposures to hazardous situations. The safety program should include, but not be limited to, protecting open-sided floors with appropriate guardrailing and handrails, the recognition and avoidance of fall hazards, and the use of appropriate safety equipment.
Recommendation #3: Employers should routinely conduct scheduled and unscheduled workplace safety inspections.
Discussion: Although the employer and subcontractor walked through the jobsite and noticed the absence of guardrailing, no action was taken to alleviate the situation. Employers should be cognizant of the hazardous conditions at jobsites and take an active role to eliminate them. Additionally, scheduled and unscheduled safety inspections should be conducted by a competent person to ensure that jobsites are free of hazardous conditions. Regardless of how comprehensive, a safety program cannot be effective unless implemented in the workplace. Even though these inspections do not guarantee the elimination of occupational injury, they do demonstrate the employer’s commitment to the enforcement of the safety program and to the prevention of occupational injury.
Recommendation #4: Employers should utilize contract language that requires subcontractors to implement a site specific safety and health program prior to the initiation of work.
Discussion: General and subcontractors should use contract language that requires all subcontractors to identify how they intend to implement a site-specific safety and health program prior to the initiation of work. Subcontractor’s safety programs should be consistent and compatible with the general contractor’s safety program. The contract should contain clear and concise language as to which party is responsible for a given safety or health issue. Any differences should be negotiated before work begins. Once the provisions for these responsibilities have been established, the respective parties should ensure that the provisions of the contract regarding safety and health are upheld.
Recommendation #5: Employers should encourage workers to actively participate in workplace safety.
Discussion: Employers should encourage all workers to actively participate in workplace safety and should ensure that all workers understand the role they play in the prevention of occupational injury. In this instance, the victim was working in an area without sufficient guarding. Workers and co-workers should look out for one another’s safety and remind each other of the proper way to perform their tasks. Employers must instruct workers of their responsibility to participate in making the workplace safer. Increased worker participation will aid in the prevention of occupational injury.
29 CFR 1926.500 (d)(1)(i) Code of Federal Regulations, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, Office of the Federal Register.