Preventing Falls Requires a Team Effort

Safety is everyone’s job in and around the workplace. With falls accounting for nearly 40% of all construction deaths, preventing this hazard on the job site requires a team effort by both employers and workers. Everyone working on a construction jobsite has a responsibility to themselves and their co-workers to follow all safety protocols related to fall prevention.

Protecting Against Fall Hazards Is Everyone’s Job

Workers should be trained and encouraged to monitor the job site for potential fall hazards constantly. This would include recognizing and avoiding areas where fall protection systems such as guardrails systems, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems have yet to be installed. While workers may not be engaged in leading edge work, such protection is still required if they are on a walking or working surface six feet or more above a level where leading edges are under construction.

Employers must provide fall protection systems to protect those working in areas as described above.

Guardrails are the best option since they are the only approved method that prevents workers from falling. Ideal for unprotected edges, scaffolding work, and openings such as uncovered skylights and elevator shafts, guardrails must be between 39 and 45 inches in height. The top rail must be capable of withstanding a minimum of 200 pounds of force, and the middle rail capable of withstanding 150 pounds of force.

Safety nets must have a minimum strength of 5,000 pounds and extend a minimum of eight feet out horizontally from the work surface.

Personal fall arrest systems (harness) must be inspected before each use. The lanyard (or lifeline) should be short enough to ensure that the worker cannot make contact with the level below should a worker fall.

The following areas warrant close attention to prevent falls:

1. Walkways/Working Surfaces

Walking/working surfaces include horizontal and vertical surfaces such as floors, stairs, roofs, ladders, ramps, scaffolds, elevated walkways, and fall protection systems.

Workers play a critical role in keeping all walking-working surfaces free of hazards such as sharp or protruding objects, loose boards, corrosion, leaks, spills, snow, and ice.

Employers must ensure that each walking-working surface can support the maximum intended load for that surface. Platforms must be planked appropriately and have a minimum width of at least 18 inches. OSHA requires that employers inspect walking-working surfaces regularly as needed and correct, repair, or guard against hazardous conditions.

2. Access Equipment – Ladders and Scaffolding

Improper use of access equipment is a significant contributor to falls. It includes, among others, ladders and scaffolding.

Scaffolds must support four times the intended load, including the weight of all workers, materials, and tools being placed on them. Solid footing is required for the scaffolding, which should be fully planked and at least 10 feet away from power lines. Scaffolding should include guardrails, mid rails, and toe boards. Ropes for suspended scaffolds are required to support both the scaffold's weight and six times the intended load.

Ladders are frequently involved in falls. Falls from a ladder are typically the result of an incorrect ladder choice (wrong size) or a failure to properly secure the ladder before using it. Another common cause involves attempting to carry tools and materials by hand while climbing the ladder.

Workers must take the primary responsibility for inspecting a ladder before each use to ensure it is in good condition and long enough to be placed at a stable angle, extending at least three feet above the work surface. The ladder should be tied to a secure point, and the top and bottom and three points of contact should be maintained when moving up or down the ladder. A tool belt or rope should be used to haul tools and materials instead of carrying them up a ladder by hand.

Employers must make sure all workers on scaffolding are provided safe access to the scaffold. OSHA requirements call for fall protection to be provided on scaffolding 10 feet or higher. All scaffolding must be designed by qualified personnel and a competent person must be selected to oversee scaffold construction. In addition, the employer must ensure the scaffolding is inspected before the start of work each day.

The employer is also responsible for ensuring each ladder is inspected daily before work starts. They are responsible for ensuring workers are trained on ladder safety and how to select the proper ladder for a job.

3. Good Housekeeping Helps Prevent Slips and Trips

While slips, trips, and falls can be caused by unsafe stairs or ladders, many accidents can be avoided by simply keeping the workplace clean. Slick spots, debris, clutter, wet or greasy floors, or dry floors with wood dust or powder are all potential causes for slips. Trips happen when your foot collides (strikes, hits) an object, causing you to lose balance. Common causes of tripping are obstructed view. poor lighting, clutter in pathways, or uneven walking surfaces.

Workers can play a key role in preventing slips and trips by cleaning spills when they happen. They should mop or sweep debris from floors or walkways when first observed, removing obstacles from walkways and keeping them free of clutter. File cabinets and storage drawers should be kept closed. Tools should not be left unattended in walkways or work areas.

Employers are responsible for adequately maintaining worksites, including handrails, non-slip mats, and keeping everything as clean and in good repair as possible. Quality housekeeping products should be available for use at all times. In addition, they should ensure cables crossing walkways are covered. Working areas and walkways should be well lit. Light bulbs and faulty switches should be promptly replaced. Deliveries should be planned to minimize the number of materials on site. Designated waste areas should be identified, with trash bins and skids provided as needed.

In summary, while it may be impossible to prevent all falls from happening on the job site, this hazard, like others, can best be prevented when employers and workers embrace their shared responsibility for work safely. It includes proper training, the use of protective equipment, and adhering to OSHA regulations and guidelines.

OSHA has identified the most frequent causes of Construction Worker deaths and injuries – they are called the Focus Four: Falls – Struck-by – Caught-in/-between – Electrocution.

Cleveland Construction is discussing each of these hazards on our jobsites to raise awareness on worker safety. This article is part 1 of 4 discussing OSHA's Focus Four.