UNLV developing curriculum for fall prevention

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is developing curriculum to teach fall prevention and safety to construction workers through a grant from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The $287,000 grant comes in the wake of the 12 deaths on Strip construction sites during the building boom that was just completed.

Six of those deaths, including two at CityCenter and two at Cosmopolitan, were due to falls.

"There are requirements in place for construction managers to train employees exposed to fall hazards," program director Nancy Menzel said. "The incidence of deaths and injuries from falls indicate that enough is not being done."

Menzel, an associate professor of nursing at UNLV, along with three professors from the university's construction management program, are designing an 8-hour curriculum and plan to teach nearly 750 construction workers during a two-year period, beginning in April.

The free program will be held in a campus lab and focus on OSHA's fall protection requirements and recognizing dangerous situations. Training includes scaffold safety and set-up, ladder safety, proper use of harnesses and equipment inspections.

While the program will be open to all construction workers, the safety program will target Hispanic workers.

Menzel said many Spanish-speaking workers have trouble understanding the materials during OSHA's 10-hour general safety course. She said the class spends only 15 to 30 minutes on fall safety.

"This is pulling out an area that has caused a lot of death and injury in Las Vegas and amplifying on it and concentrating on it," she said.

OSHA's training is a lecture with no hands-on training in fall prevention, something UNLV's program will offer.

"They get the basic principles in the OSHA 10-hour course but they don't get any hands-on training," Menzel said. "You really don't get to practice on putting on harnesses or recognizing unsafe situations."

While the deaths at CityCenter highlighted construction safety in Las Vegas, falls accounted for approximately 442 construction work fatalities in 2007 in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The fall prevention and safety curriculum at the end of the UNLV study will be given to federal OSHA officials, who will then redistribute the program to safety directors around the country who ask for the material.

Menzel said her work in workplace safety -- she holds a doctorate in occupational safety and health from the University of South Florida -- has shown that Hispanic workers often sit through OSHA training without understanding the material. They do not ask questions out of fear of drawing attention to themselves.

When the classes were offered in Spanish, the information has been often poorly translated.

Menzel said the class will also offer assertiveness training so workers can talk to supervisors about possible safety hazards without putting themselves at risk of injury.

'What employers need to understand is when an accident happens it shuts down the job site and they lose a lot of time," Menzel said "It's really better for everybody if they can agree to a reasonable work schedule."

Steve Coffield, the chief administrative officer for Nevada OSHA, said fall protection standards for OSHA can be difficult to translate to non-English speaking workers.

"This is a great program," Coffield said of the UNLV grant. "This is going to be a worthwhile effort because of the complexity of fall protection. They'll be able to break the communication barrier, hopefully, and will do a better job of getting the information to the workers."

Hispanics made up 28 percent of Clark County's population in 2007, according to a study by the PEW Hispanic Center. While the number of Hispanics working construction in the area is not known, Menzel said she hopes UNLV's program will reduce injuries in that population,

"If we can reduce the injuries among Hispanics, we can reduce the total injury rate," Menzel said.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.