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What to Know About Fall Hazard Assessments & Engineering Site Visits

Implementing OSHA-compliant work-at-height solutions starts with having qualified and competent specialists conduct a site visit and hazard assessment.

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Published on: March 26, 2024

From vaudeville to silent movies, the Marx Brothers, “Modern Family,” and countless “fails” on YouTube, slapstick is funny even when it is predictable. When you see a banana peel on the floor, you know a pratfall is coming. Yet, you still laugh.

Falls are not a laughing matter to OSHA, ANSI, and state and local authorities. As reported by the National Safety Council (NSC), 850 workers suffered fatal injuries due to a fall in 2021, including 136 from a fall on the same level. The council estimated “hundreds of thousands” of workers lost time because of a fall on the job.

An unprotected roof edge—like a banana peel onscreen—is probably the most apparent fall hazard, but it is only one of many hazards that can cause an accident. A fall hazard assessment and engineering site visit will identify fall risks and hazards and devise plans to mitigate them throughout a facility so that it meets regulatory standards.

What are the ANSI requirements for fall protection?

ANSI Z359.2-2007 directs that employers and safety professionals control fall hazards through planning, personnel training, proper installation and use of fall protection and rescue equipment, and implementing safe fall protection and rescue procedures.

ANSI specifies “passive fall protection” measures to prevent falls, such as a roof edge guardrail system, and “active fall protection” to stop falls, such as wearing personal protective equipment. It further delineates between fall restraint—ensuring the worker does not reach the hazard—and fall arrest—stopping a fall.

How does a hazard assessment identify risk?

A hazard assessment locates areas where employees work at height and their routines. It takes measure of the height at which employees perform their tasks and the frequency and duration of these tasks.

It considers the type of building and facility and its needs. For example, a capital equipment manufacturer or food processing plant may have tall machinery that needs to be accessed for production and maintenance. A transportation facility will have different work-at-height access needs to service the tops of trucks, planes, or rail cars. Construction sites have a range of unique hazards that need to be recognized: ladders and scaffolds, inadequate anchor points for harnesses, unstable work surfaces, wall openings, and others.

As noted, the roof edge presents the clearest danger for construction and maintenance workers on a rooftop; however, it is not the only threat. A fall hazard assessment will explore all access points to the roof (e.g., hatches, ladders), locations of skylights or any other rooftop openings, and obstacles on the roof (e.g., ducts, cables, piping) or changes in level that need to be traversed. It will also consider hazards due to weather, including standing water, exposure to high winds, and other factors.

A thorough workplace evaluation should identify other fall hazards, including floor openings (service pits not in use), elevated workspaces (reaching inventory on a rack), and loading docks where guardrails are needed. There can also be unprotected edges inside a facility, such as a mezzanine.

At its conclusion, a hazard assessment should provide comprehensive documentation of all findings supplemented by a layout with photos, sketches, and CAD drawings as needed. It will propose fall protection measures and specify how they meet OSHA and ANSI requirements.

What does an engineering site visit accomplish?

An engineering site visit builds on the hazard assessment by collaborating with the employer (and/or building owner) to implement compliant fall protection solutions. It has three essential phases:

  1. Concept – What are the identified fall hazards, and collaboratively speaking, what are the most practical solutions? Can operations and productivity be improved?
  2. Design – What structural analysis is needed to determine the integrity of the building, roof, and elevated surfaces to support fall protection equipment and personnel? What refinements need to be made to the concept, and what are the project costs?
  3. Implementation – A plan is formulated for the procurement and proper installation and testing of systems and equipment. Awareness education and specific personnel training are noted. Ensures procedures for regular inspection, maintenance, and continuous improvement practices.

Which solution is best for you?

If you are responsible for fall protection at your facility, contact Flexible Lifeline Systems. We can discuss your needs and concerns about regulatory compliance and work at height safety. Specialists are able to mobilize to your site to conduct a safety audit and map out a plan of action. Our services can include as little or as much as you need, from consulting, design, engineering, and fabrication to installation, training, and other support. Let us know about your fall protection projects!

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