Challenges in residential fall prevention: insight from apprentice carpenters

Am J Ind Med. 2008 Jan;51(1):60-8. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20544.


Background: Falls remain a serious source of morbidity and mortality in residential construction despite considerable knowledge of risk factors and prevention strategies. While training is universally viewed as positive, we know little about its effectiveness in preventing residential falls.

Methods: A series of focus groups were conducted with union apprentice carpenters (n = 36) at varied levels of training to elicit input on factors that might influence the effectiveness of residential fall prevention training, including hazard awareness, timing of elements of formal instruction, jobsite mentoring, and workplace norms.

Results: While apprentices identified many residential fall hazards, they voiced little concern about work near unprotected vertical or horizontal openings such as stairwells, window openings or leading edges. On residential jobs, apprentices worked at heights immediately and were often exposed to hazards they had not yet been trained to handle. The quality of mentoring varied tremendously, and things they had been taught in school were often not the norm on these small worksites. Use of fall arrest equipment was uncommon. Job insecurity in this fast-paced work environment influenced behaviors even when apprentices reported knowledge of safe procedures; this was more of a problem for less experienced apprentices.

Conclusions: These data provide compelling evidence that apprentices often do not apply safety principles they have been taught in school in the actual work environment, illuminating how attempts to empower workers through training alone can fall short. The findings have policy implications and demonstrate the importance of measuring more than knowledge when evaluating effectiveness of training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control*
  • Accidents, Occupational / prevention & control*
  • Education
  • Facility Design and Construction*
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Labor Unions
  • Occupational Health*
  • Wood
  • Workplace