Fall Protection Guide (Spanish)
Poster: Fall Protection
Poster: Fall Protection (Spanish)
Poster: Fall Prevention
Poster: Fall Prevention (Spanish)
Payroll Stuffer: Fall Protection
Payroll Stuffer: Fall Protection (Spanish)

Falls are a common problem in construction since work is usually performed from the ground up. Falls represent one of the highest risk groups for severe, disabling, or life-threatening injuries.

Even the impact from a short, four-foot fall results in an impact force of 1,600 pounds and may result in a serious injury. Fall exposure management can be effectively addressed through sound safety engineering principles. The first step is to recognize the hazard. Mitigation techniques should then focus primarily on elimination of the hazard, then the application of engineering, personal protective equipment (fall arrest equipment), and administrative controls as a last resort. The OSHA standard basically follows this process. Fall exposures exist in many forms ranging from unprotected leading edges, to floor, roof, and deck openings. The nature of the exposure will determine what protection methods are acceptable. Generally, construction workers should be protected from all fall hazards in excess of six feet.

Control of Fall Exposures
The preferred method of fall management is to eliminate the hazard. A good example of hazard elimination is covering a floor opening. If the opening is covered, then the hazard is eliminated. OSHA 1926.501(bB)(4) requires any hole greater than two inches in dimension be protected. The requirements for covers are found in OSHA 1926.502(iI). Covers should be secured against accidental displacement, be capable of supporting at least twice the weight of an employee, equipment, or materials that may be imposed on the cover, and be marked with the word “HOLE” or “COVER.” One other note regarding floor openings: employees on lower levels can be exposed to falling objects. Falling object protection is also required by OSHA 1926 Subpart M.

In addition to covers, the use of toe boards, nets, and screens in guardrails may also be necessary. Another fall management tool is eliminating access to a potential fall hazard. Guardrails are the preferred method of providing fall protection on elevated floor perimeters, flat roofs, around floor openings, and elevator and stair cores. The construction requirements for guardrails can be found in OSHA 1926.502(b). General requirements include a top rail height between 39 and 45 inches, a mid-rail installed halfway between the walking surface and the top rail, and a lateral force strength requirement of 200 pounds. Guardrails are typically constructed with wood. If wire rope is used for guardrail construction, then it must be flagged at six-foot intervals with a highly-visible material. Wire rope will have a certain amount of vertical deflection. The rope must be anchored securely, and have adequate supports so that the deflection remains within the 39- and 45-inch height requirements. In the absence of other feasible controls, personal fall arrest equipment should be utilized. Proper application of fall arrest systems is dependent on several criteria. It is extremely important that, when used, the fall arrest components be considered as an entire system.

The purpose of fall arrest equipment goes beyond arresting the employee after a fall, and includes dissipating the energy generated from the fall. A fall arrest system will usually include some form of deceleration device to dissipate some of the energy from the fall (shock absorber). All components of the system must act together to minimize the forces to which a worker is exposed. These components are the anchorage point of fall arrest equipment. The system should also take into consideration retrieval/rescue if a fall actually occurs.

The use of a full-body harness meeting the requirements of 1926.502(d) is the first component of a personal fall arrest system. The harness is designed to distribute the forces of a fall in such a way so as to minimize the potential for injury to the worker. Body belts are no longer permitted as components of a personal fall arrest system.

The second component is the lifeline or lanyard. These can be in various forms including self-retracting lifelines, lifelines with rope grab, or a shock-absorbing lanyard. These connect the full-body harness to the anchorage point, and, together, comprise the complete fall arrest system.

Anchorage point selection is critical to a properly engineered fall arrest system. If the anchorage point is inadequate, then the system will fail and the employee will still fall. The anchorage point must be capable of supporting 5,000 pounds per attached employee, and be independent of the surface that an employee is working on. Anchorage points should also be selected to prevent swing-falls (a fall where an employee can swing into a structure).

When considering anchorage points, it is critical to remember that the farthest a worker can fall is six feet. It would serve little purpose to have an anchorage point near a worker’s feet, as they would fall twice the length of their lanyard, up to 12 feet depending on the deceleration distance built into the shock absorber. A basic requirement in selecting fall protection system components is that the force a worker is exposed to from the
fall must be limited to 1,800 pounds or less. This is achieved by limiting the free-fall distance. Methods include utilizing various lanyard lengths, anchorage point selection, or using deceleration equipment. As an employer, you should ensure that the individual selecting fall arrest equipment and designing jobsite fall protection systems fully understands the requirements of OSHA 29CFR1 926 Subpart M, as well as the correct application and limitations of all components in the fall arrest system. Some systems, such as horizontal lifelines, must be designed, installed, and used under the supervision of a qualified person.

Training and Orientation
OSHA requires that a competent person train all employees exposed to falls. Training must include:

  • Nature of fall hazards in the work area
  • Correct procedures for erecting, using, inspecting, maintaining, and disassembling the fall protection systems to be used
  • The use and operation of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, or other systems permitted by OSHA 1926.502

It also stipulates that employees be retrained under certain circumstances such as change in the jobsite fall exposures, or when you have reason to believe that a trained employee does not have the required understanding and skill. If employees are properly trained, and if the proper equipment and work methods are selected, then work can be conducted with a high degree of safety and efficiency at any height. The key is a commitment from both employers and employees to participate in a proactive fall management program. The end result will be increased production, safer working environments, and a reduction in accidents, injuries, and deaths.

Both locally and nationally, annual OSHA citations for deficiencies in fall protection consistently rank within the top 10 citations. Compensable fall injuries in construction costs billions of dollars annually.

OSHA 29CFR 1926.500-503
ANSI A10.34

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NOTICE: This guide may make reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations; however the guide is not legal advice as to compliance with OSHA or other safety laws, codes, or regulations. Compliance with OSHA and other safety laws codes or regulations, and maintaining a safe work environment for your employees remains your responsibility. WCF Insurance does not undertake to perform the duty of any person to provide for the health or safety of your employees. WCF Insurance does not warrant that your workplace is safe or healthful, or that it complies with any laws, regulations, codes, or standards.