When working from heights, one slip of the foot or a loss of balance can send a worker down to his death. In Pennsylvania, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a company and contractors after finding employees performing framing work without fall protection at three job sites. Strapping on fall protection equipment would seem like a common-sense notion. However, each year there are thousands of violations and countless more incidents of workers performing their jobs without adequate protection – or any at all. Why would employers and workers tempt fate? Site managers can reinforce safety on any job using fall protection and supportive safety best practice materials.
Prioritize Fall Protection
In 2018, there were 7,270 OSHA violations of fall protection. This was an increase over 2017’s number, and keeping fall protection the top OSHA violation for seven years. At the site in Pennsylvania, OSHA cited the company for failing to provide fall protection equipment and training, among other citations for improper use of ladders, deficiencies in walking/working surfaces, and inadequate fire protection.
“Knowingly and repeatedly ignoring fall protection requirements places workers at risk for serious or fatal injuries,” said OSHA Allentown Area Director Jean Kulp. “All construction employers, regardless of their contracting status, are legally required to comply with regulations to protect workers’ safety and health.”
OSHA in Massachusetts is stepping up its fall protection awareness after data shows that falls to a lower level were the top causes of workplace deaths. Falls resulted in at least 21 deaths, five of which were falls from ladders. Most were in the construction industry.
“Falls are the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. Employers must provide fall protection and adequately train workers to identify occupational hazards that can cause injury,” said OSHA Braintree, Mass., Director James Mulligan. His comments were in response to yet another fatal fall in 2018. The worker did not have fall protection and the violating company had been warned repeatedly by a general contractor.
Improve Fall Safety
Each year, OSHA focuses on falls and fall protection in the construction industry during its Safety Stand Down Week. This year, the event is May 6-10th. The national stand-down encourages employers and workers to pause voluntarily during the workday for safety demonstrations, training in hazard recognition and fall prevention, and talks about hazards, protective methods, and the company’s safety policies, goals and expectations.
“Falls can be prevented when employers train and educate workers about these hazards properly and provide appropriate protection,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “This should be a priority during the first week of May and must be a priority every day.”
There are tools readily available for employers and workers to address the prevention of fall hazards in construction and other industries. Here are a few tips when working from heights to prevent slips, trips, and falls.
- Plan ahead using a fall prevention plan. Use visual communication for working at heights. Mark floor openings, skylights, fixed scaffolds, decking, and roofing and edges for increased visibility.
- Ensure workers have the correct type of fall protection available to them. Keep personal protective equipment areas neat and organized. Inspect equipment and anchor points before use.
- Check equipment such as aerial lifts, scaffolds, or structures for damage, weakness, and anything else amiss using a job hazard analysis.
- During toolbox talks, bring up falls and fall protection compliance. Train and retrain workers using a fall prevention best practices guide.
- Go over the safe use and reinforce scaffolding and ladder safety. Check weight limits and other informational labels for damage and accuracy.
Safety managers on construction sites can take this time to re-evaluate fall prevention plans and other work processes for improvements. Improving safety not only protects workers but it also improves efficiency by streamlining production.