Fall Protection Guidelines for New Buildings – What to Look For

As you probably already know, OSHA maintains a separate set of standards for construction and non-construction worksites.

The reasoning behind this is simple. Construction worksites present a different set of risks than non-construction worksites, so work crews need to use different systems to mitigate those risks effectively.

Fall protection equipment and systems used during construction are typically much more temporary in nature. This can pose a problem for new building owners who discover fall hazards that may not have existed during construction. Building engineers and architects should pay close attention during the design process to create facilities that limit exposures to falls during routine maintenance or repair activities.

Inevitably, permanent fall protection is often overlooked, and an owner will move into a new building with a roof hatch next to a leading edge, mechanical equipment in the basement with no safe way to access, or windows on ledges that need to be cleaned with no means of protection.

Whenever possible, elimination of the fall hazard early in the design process is usually the easiest and least expensive means to solve a fall protection issue. Use of guardrails or access platforms are also the preferred means of protection from falls. The use of permanent fall arrest systems should be, in most cases, the last resort when no other means of fall protection is feasible.

For architects and engineers who determine a fall protection system is required during the design of a new building, there are several considerations we would recommend in the specifications:

  • Require the contractor performing the design and installation to have a minimum 5 years of experience in the design and installation of similar systems.
  • A qualified person shall engineer the fall protection system, and this person must be a licensed structural engineer with experience in the design of fall protection systems.
  • The fall protection systems shall comply with all relevant OSHA and ANSI standards.
  • The contractor shall provide authorized user training to the building owners.
  • The fall protection system manufacturer shall have a documented quality program equivalent to ISO 9001.
  • Include the first year’s annual inspection in the scope of work. This ensures the owner is aware of the requirement and provide a contact for future annual inspections.

For building owners who discover their new building is lacking in protecting their employees from falls, all hope is not lost. There are many effective and safe solutions to retrofit a building with the proper protections.

Again, elimination of the job task of fall hazards, if possible, should be the first option. Many building owners are taking advantage of innovative fall protection solutions such as freestanding guardrails and freestanding fall restraint systems. The advantage of these systems is that they do not penetrate the surface they are placed on, allowing for quick installation and fewer holes in the roof.

With this year’s changes to OSHA’s walking-working surfaces standard, anyone on a low slope roof within 15 feet of an unprotected edge must have some measure of fall protection. Check here for more details.

Flexible Lifeline Systems specialists offer onsite fall hazard evaluations. In most cases, these evaluations are provided at no cost, and serve to identify not only hazard areas but also provide practical solutions and a means to prioritize their implementation.

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