Falls are a leading cause of workplace fatalities, according to the National Safety Council. And data also shows that employees age 50 and older are sustaining falls with injury at a higher rate than other employee populations.

In fact, 65 percent of fall-related fatalities in Virginia in 2017 involved a worker age 55 or older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employee medical and compensation costs associated with fall incidents have been estimated at $70 billion annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

A Virginia Tech Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) training program aims to address the knowledge and skills gaps around fall prevention in the workplace. The program, which will be operated both on-campus and across the region, is funded through a Susan Harwood Grant. EHS was awarded nearly $160,000 in grant funding in September. Under the grant, EHS will develop and deliver training for the light industrial sector and general industry.  

Training will include all aspects of fall hazard recognition, prevention, and protection. The programming will also highlight prevention information on falls in an aging workforce, as well as secondary falls. Secondary falls occur when an employee falls due to medication use or health issues, such as changes in eyesight, balance, or other medical issues

English as a Second Language (ESL) employees and young workers will be a key part of targeted audiences. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asks grantees to include these audiences as part of an ongoing effort to address issues in hard-to-reach populations.  

EHS will offer both a train-the-trainer program and training for individual employees with the goal of educating 30 trainers and 650 individuals over the 12-month grant period.

Trainings will be hosted on the Virginia Tech Blacksburg campus, across the New River and Roanoke valleys, and at other requested venues across Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the Greater Washington, D.C., metro region. The program is open to all employers in these areas.

Susan Harwood Training Grants are awarded by OSHA through the Education and Training Directorate. The grants provide training and education for workers and employers on workplace safety, health hazards, and rights and responsibilities. Target audiences include underserved, low-literacy, and high-hazard industry workers and employers. OSHA-selected topics vary from year to year and are chosen based on fatal statistics, national emphasis programs, and pending regulations.

This is the third consecutive Harwood Grant awarded to EHS, totaling almost $450,000 in grant funding received. Previous trainings have focused on hazardous chemicals in hospitality and general industry employees.

To date, more than 1,300 persons have participated in EHS’ Harwood Grant offerings. Attendees have called Virginia Tech’s programs informative, valuable, and engaging. 

“EHS is proud to receive its third Susan Harwood Grant. We look forward to partnering with employers and employees from across the region to fill the need for critical and engaging training around fall prevention,” said Lance Franklin, assistant vice president for environmental health and safety.

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