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NIOSH's Christine Branche Talks Safety Stand-Downs

Over the past 2 years, NIOSH, OSHA and CPWR have drawn increased attention to construction safety, and particularly preventing fall-related injuries and fatalities, through the National Stand-Down. The event has been successful in focusing employer and employee attention on the need to identify and control hazards and to communicate clearly about the importance of approaching each work task with safety in mind.

During the upcoming ASSE Construction Safety Symposium, Christine Branche, Ph.D., principal associate director and director, NIOSH Office of Construction Safety and Health, will present a session on delivering a successful safety stand-down. ASSE recently spoke with Dr. Branche about safety stand-downs and how OSH professionals can use these events to generate positive momentum for safety.

ASSE: Please define a safety stand-down and explain the goal or desired outcome for such events.
Christine: The National Safety Stand-Down, which OSHA started in 2014, actually stems from the national Safety Pays, Falls Cost construction falls prevention program which NIOSH and OSHA jointly initiated in 2012, along with key partners CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training, and the members of the NORA Construction Sector Council. As for the Stand-Down, its goal is to raise awareness about fall hazards in construction and how to prevent them.

It is important for people to realize that injuries and deaths from falls in construction are both significant and preventable. In 2013, deaths caused by falls from elevation were a leading cause of death for construction workers, accounting for 291 of the 828 construction fatalities recorded. These deaths were preventable. According to OSHA, fall prevention safety standards were among the top 10 most frequently cited OSHA standards, during fiscal year 2014.

ASSE: Why are stand-downs an effective way to build awareness and engage all personnel in the effort to prevent injuries—particularly fall-related injuries on construction sites?
Christine: I think there are two key reasons why the stand-downs have been effective. First is their origin in the construction falls prevention campaign. That campaign was designed based on thorough research on the topic, the audience, and even the colors and layout for the campaign logo and poster. It was designed to work. Second, the stand-down was launched by OSHA. Having our leading occupational safety and health regulatory agency putting this effort forward helps people pay close attention, and they have.

ASSE: What’s the optimal takeaway a stand-down should provide?
Christine: Every construction contractor and their workers who are conducting tasks at height will benefit from the information from the construction falls prevention campaign, and from participating in a stand-down, period. Even the U.S. Air Force did it! In 2014, all Air Force safety professionals were tasked with spending the week visiting jobsites, conducting fall protection audits, and using those opportunities during the audits to conduct training for all of the Air Force military and civilian staff at all U.S. Air Force facilities globally.

ASSE: What are some common stand-down activities?
Christine: We encourage people to be as imaginative as possible about how to conduct a stand-down. The basic component is to stop all work for a period of time (15 minutes? 20? An hour?) so that everyone at the site can have a focused discussion or training about falls and how to prevent them. CPWR’s website offers this encouragement: “[Stand-downs] may be very short, and comprised of a toolbox talk or a safety huddle where specific hazard controls are discussed, or they may be of longer duration and include training and the provision of information on a variety of hazard controls.”

ASSE: Can anyone host a stand-down or is it really just for large sites?
Christine: Anyone can host a stand-down, and on any size site. In fact, in May, OSHA received a request for a certificate of participation from an employer who said that he had a really small firm—just one employee and himself—but he conducted a stand-down.

ASSE: Can you share a compelling success story that you’ve heard personally?
Christine: The Safway Group is a provider of access equipment (e.g., scaffolds). Safway’s President and CEO, Bill Hayes, heard about the campaign and the stand-down, and worked with his leadership team to make this a company-wide activity—all jobsite, all activities—on June 2, 2014. Here is what Bill told me later that summer:

“Seeing is believing” – and as you look through these photos, you can see how our team (REAL people – where it counts!) embrace this campaign and the messages inherent in it. They WANT us to protect them (obviously!) . . . . They appreciate the time and investment to do so…and campaigns like this WILL serve to improve workplace injuries. Reaction from our teams thus far has been overwhelmingly positive!
ASSE: What kind of feedback have you received from other participants?
Christine:: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. CPWR analyzed the data that OSHA collected during the 2014 stand-down. There were a few bumps, but again, the general response was quite positive. So positive that OSHA, CPWR and NIOSH agreed to support another stand-down in 2015, and all indications are that we will do it again in 2016.

ASSE: How can company executives can show their support for a stand-down?
Christine: We really appreciate the enthusiastic support that many executives have had for the stand-down both in 2014 and this year. Regardless of the size of the job, an employer sends an important message when supporting the campaign. How can they do it? They can start by selecting dates (a day? a week?), then determining what types of activities will be conducted (e.g., toolbox talks).

ASSE: What about employees? What is their role? How might they encourage their employers to organize and hold a stand-down?
Christine: Active participation and a willingness to learn are key components, followed by doing what they learn—these are the key components. If a construction worker finds that his/her employer is not hosting a stand-down, then that worker can direct the employer to either OSHA site or the CPWR site.

ASSE: Should contract workers be included in a stand-down? How about temporary workers?
Christine: We encourage employers to include all workers in a stand-down. If they are on the site, then they will need to work with and among each other safely, so we don’t think it is wise for anyone to be excused from the stand-down.

ASSE: What resources are available to help an OSH professional planning a stand-down?
Christine: There are so many ideas! Be sure to see some of the success stories on CPWR's website.

ASSE: Any final thoughts?
Christine: Taking my cue from Nike, just do it!

Dr. Blanche will deliver her presentation, "Learn to Deliver a Successful Safety Stand-Down," on Friday, Nov. 13, during ASSE's Construction Safety Symposium in New Orleans, LA.