Published on: March 1, 2021
In the United States, work at height regulations and guidelines have helped make the workplace safer since the founding of The Occupational Safety and Health Administration. However, even with advances in fall safety training and fall protection systems over the last 50 years, Fall Protection remains one of the most cited OSHA violations year over year for decades. Falls remain the most common causes of serious work-related injury or death and are one of the costliest of all workplace injuries.
2020 proved to be a safer year than 2019, no doubt in part related to a world-wide economic slowdown due to the COVID pandemic. As enterprises throughout the nation look for safe and responsible ways to bring operations back on line, conscientious HS&E Directors are taking this opportunity to implement strong safety cultures and establish initiatives that go beyond proper hygiene, mask and social distancing mandates. Including comprehensive risk & hazard assessments and investments in fall protection.
Although there have been great advances to fall protection, serious injuries as a result of falls from higher levels is the most common of all workplace injuries. Under the best circumstances, the impact of a nonfatal fall in the workplace is only felt physically and emotional by the person sustaining the injury. The most recent data shows often devastating affects can be felt financially, operationally, and legally.
SOLVING PROBLEMS VS PREVENTING PROBLEMS
With fines and penalties increasing, information becoming more readily available, and innovative fall protection solutions becoming more economic annually…the cost of doing nothing has become too high. As confusing as some OSHA regulations can be, lines like the following should be crystal clear…
“Employers must set up the workplace to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated workstations or into holes in the floor and walls. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry and eight feet in longshoring operations. In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.”
It’s not difficult to recognize that preventing a problem makes more sense than solving one.
Understanding which fall protection measures, rescue plans, equipment or programs are most ideal or essential to maintain safety while working at height can often take an experienced, competent, professional eye.
After risk assessments reveal a hazard in need of mitigation, fall protection specialists often use the Hierarchy of Fall Protection to help determine the best form of fall prevention.
- Hazard Elimination – this method is the most effective method, because you are physically removing or “engineering out” the hazard from the risky behavior. It should be the first method considered. Example: Removing HVAC Units from roof and relocating to the ground.
- Passive Fall Protection – this method doesn’t require special training and helps eliminate “human error” that often takes place with other methods and comes in the form of physical barriers such as guardrail. “One benefit of implementing passive fall protection is that User Training and Annual Inspections are not required, resulting in a safer work environment and better ROI”.
- Fall Restraint Systems – these systems prevent the user from reaching a hazard so that a fall cannot physically occur. Often described in the industry as a “dog leash”. Fall restraint systems are favored over fall arrest systems because they virtually eliminate the issues associated with fall arrest, (free fall, arresting forces, secondary injuries, and rescue).
- Fall Arrest Systems – these systems are designed to allow the user to fall, but the fall is arrested and maintained with permissible force and clearance margins. The risk associated with fall arrest systems tends to be higher than other forms of fall protection due to having to limit the amount of force applied during the fall and preventing the user from coming into contact with the structure below. With proper training and a rescue plan, a fall arrest system can be a safe method for protecting workers when other options may not be possible.
- Administrative Controls – Administrative controls are procedures that work to increase the awareness of a fall hazard. This method is least preferred due to not providing a physical or otherwise positive means of protection. Examples of Administrative Controls are warning lines, safety monitors and designated areas.
Fall Protection should be viewed as an investment not an expense, an investment with an ROI measured in lives not dollars. When fall protection is done right, a company’s greatest assets are protected, its employees.