Approximately 1,200 fatal work injuries are recorded in the construction industry annually in the United States with approximately 33% resulting from falls. Each year, falls consistently account for the greatest number of fatalities and OSHA violations in the construction industry, and are always a major concern in other industries. Death and injury can be reduced if proper fall protection safety procedures are followed. As an added bonus, Workers’ Compensation premiums can be reduced as a result of fewer fatalities and injuries.
Events surrounding these types of incidents often involve a number of factors. Traditionally, the failure to use any kind of fall protection equipment has been the most common cause of fall-related fatalities. However, some studies indicate that incidents are increasing as a result of misuse or using the wrong kind of equipment for a particular job.
OSHA regulations require protection when workers are exposed to falls of 6-feet or more (10-feet on scaffolds; modified under OSHA’s interim fall protection enforcement policy for certain residential construction activities; modified for steel erection). These regulations define specific hazards and outline acceptable ways of providing protection for these hazards.
Fall Protection Systems
Before you can begin a fall protection program, you must identify the potential fall hazards in your workplace. Once identified, the two ways to protect workers include engineering controls and fall protection equipment as you already know. Engineering controls can include railings, toe-boards, covers, and/or platforms, all which provide permanent and secure protection. When engineering controls are not feasible or practical, a Personal Fall Arrest (PFA) system should be employed to prevent injuries from falls. PFA systems can consist of devices that arrest a free fall or devices that restrain a worker in position to prevent a fall from occurring.
Inspection and Maintenance
OSHA regulations require that all fall arrest equipment be inspected prior to its use. This includes checking for frays or broken strands in lanyards, harnesses, and lifelines; and oxidation or distortion of any metal connection devices. To properly maintain the devices and increase the equipment’s lifetime, periodic cleaning is necessary. Clean all surfaces with a mild detergent soap, and always let the equipment air dry away from excess heat. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintenance. IMPORTANT NOTE: Any equipment that has been exposed to a fall should be taken out of service and not used again.
A trained and educated employee is a safe employee. The employees working your jobs must be capable of identifying fall hazards and taking appropriate action. All employees must be capable of identifying typical fall protection hazards and the proper protective measures. Fall protection training should consist of initial training as well as periodic refresher training throughout the year.
In addition to training, correct installation that is checked by an engineer, regular inspections and proper maintenance are critical and often overlooked elements in the management of fall protection. Contact a safety professional to learn more about developing an effective fall protection program to positively impact your workforce and your Workers’ Compensation costs.