Unfortunately, falls are one of the leading causes of job related injuries and fatalities. On any given day, every worker – even one used to working at heights – is at risk of having a fall and needs the best protection possible.
It’s important to periodically revisit basic fall protection information to keep a safe working environment and maintain a substantial fall protection management program.
Many different events can lead to a fall, but the most common are slips. Falls can also occur as a result of:
- Losing balance
- Losing grip on support
- Support moving or giving way
- Surface breaking
- Stepping in a hole
Frequently, just before falling, the employee was either climbing up or down or lifting/carrying something.
Other actions that often take place directly before a fall are:
- Stepping backwards
- Using tools or equipment
When putting together a fall protection system, it’s important to keep these common causes in mind. It doesn’t take a far fall to cause a serious injury, and it’s important to remember workers of all experience levels can be at risk of falling.
When you hear the words “fall protection”, images of equipment like guardrails, safety nets, or harnesses likely come to mind. While these are critical pieces of fall protection, that’s not all there is to a comprehensive fall protection management program.
Fall protection can be broken down into two main categories – protective equipment and people. Both serve to help prevent falls and protect employees in the event a fall does occur.
Fall protection equipment can either be passive or active. Passive equipment systems provide protection without requiring any action by people. Examples include:
- Safety Nets
Active equipment systems contain components that require human training or manipulation to work effectively. Some examples are:
- Anchorage Points
- Body Harnesses
- Snap Hooks
All employers and employees play an important role in the fall protection system in place at their companies. Certain actions and behaviors can be encouraged to eliminate fall hazards, prevent falls, and protect workers.
- Provide working conditions free of known dangers
- Identify and eliminate fall hazards at the work site
- Preplan for retrieval and ensure that employees aren’t seriously injured if a fall does occur
- Be diligent about educating and training employees how to properly identify fall hazards and follow safe practices
- Follow safe work practices
- Properly use equipment
- Be proactive about receiving up-to-date training on a regular basis
- Learn to identify fall hazards and recognize unsafe practices
- Be aware of the tasks that increase the risk of falling
- Understand how to control exposure to fall hazards
OSHA requirements are the accepted standard for workplace fall safety practices. They state:
- Fall protection be provided at elevations of 4 feet in general industry workplaces, 5 feet in shipyards, 6 feet in the construction industry and 8 feet in longshoring operations. In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.
- Floor holes or openings must be covered or guarded immediately.
- All floor hole covers must be constructed to effectively support two times the weight of employees, equipment and materials that may be on the cover at any given time.
- Employers must develop, implement and commit to a fall protection management program, provide training about the program to employees, and evaluate the program regularly to determine if any changes or updates are necessary.
Even if workers are only occasionally exposed to heights, it’s important to have a fall protection management program in place that is in compliance with OSHA regulations. It’s critically important to keep all workers kept safe at all times – and important to remember, it’s someone’s life.