If you work in the construction industry, you’re likely aware that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) carefully keeps track of the most common workplace safety issues in order to educate people on ways to prevent them. For years, falls have been the number one cause of death in the construction industry. In fact, in 2020, falls alone accounted for 351 of the 1,008 deaths in the construction field that year. That’s why OSHA now has a renewed focus on fall protection, with a campaign to spread awareness about how to prevent falls from roofs, ladders, scaffolding, and other tall surfaces at construction sites. If you’re interested in supporting this initiative, consider these tips on fall protection, including what equipment to use and what OSHA regulations to pay attention to keep your team out of harm’s way.
Look for Possible Hazards at Worksites
Before beginning any work, you should assess the safety of the worksite. Start by looking for potential fall hazards, such as unprotected excavation edges, holes, skylights, or sloped roofs, as these are some common places for fall accidents to occur.
Once you identify all potential hazards, you should look into the risks associated with them so you can put measures into place to eliminate or minimize them. You should also consider the work environment, weather conditions, and the type of work being performed at the site.
Make Sure You Offer Sufficient Training to Employees
Proper training is critical for preventing falls in the construction industry. You should make sure all workers, regardless of their experience level, get some training on fall hazards and prevention measures. This training should go over how to use fall protection equipment, recognize fall hazards, and understand OSHA regulations that are in place to prevent falls.
Use Guardrails and Safety Nets at Worksites
Guardrails and safety nets are helpful for passive fall protection. They provide a physical barrier that prevents workers from falling over the edge of a building or structure. These systems should be in place on all open sides and edges, including on scaffolding, walkways, and roofs at construction sites.
Provide Construction Workers with Personal Fall Arrest Systems
When guardrails and safety nets are not possible or practical on a particular job, personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) can become the primary means of active fall protection. These systems consist of an anchor point, a body harness, a lanyard or lifeline, and a deceleration device to slow down any falls. To reduce the chance of being injured from falls, workers should put on the harness before standing on a high surface. The harness connects them to a secure anchor point, and if they start falling, it quickly stops them so they don’t hit the ground.
Make sure you conduct regular inspections of PFAS components and replace any damaged or worn parts. Construction workers should be trained to make sure their personal fall arrest systems fit properly and are in good working order before every use.
Note that OSHA requires these systems to support up to 310 pounds, have the ability to prevent employees from freefalling for more than 6 feet, and let employees come to a stop while keeping deceleration distances to 3.5 feet or less. Don’t use any systems unless you know they meet OSHA’s standards and have been properly maintained and inspected.
Utilize Safety Harnesses
Safety harnesses are an integral part of personal fall arrest systems. Make sure all workers who are exposed to fall hazards wear a suitable safety harness for every construction job, and make it a non-negotiable part of their personal protective equipment. Regularly inspect harnesses for wear and damage, and be sure to replace any worn or broken equipment.
Ensure Scaffolding Safety
Scaffolding is a common and necessary type of equipment on construction sites, but as helpful as it is, it can become a fall hazard unless you take the right precautions. First, make sure the scaffolding is set up and maintained by competent employees who adhere to OSHA standards. Guardrails, mid-rails, and toe boards should be installed on all open sides of your scaffolding platforms. Additionally, workers should be protected from fall hazards when accessing or leaving the scaffold, which may require stairs or ladder access.
Inspect Fall Protection Equipment Regularly
A major part of reducing the chances of falls is keeping fall protection equipment well maintained. The integrity of safety harnesses, lanyards, lifelines, and anchor points is crucial. Any damaged or worn equipment should be immediately replaced to ensure worker safety at the construction site.
Keep the Work Area Clean
Granted, we all know clean is probably not how you’d describe any construction site, but it’s worth it to try to keep it as tidy as you can. Check all pathways for debris, equipment, and tools, and make sure nothing is sticking out into the walkway, ready to trip someone. In addition, you should check stairways, walkways, and platforms to ensure there are no slippery substances that could lead to workers slipping and falling down on the job.
Properly Secure Construction Tools and Materials
Unsecured tools and materials can pose fall hazards to workers walking below them. So, it’s important to secure all tools and construction materials when working at great heights to prevent them from falling and injuring anyone below.
Supervise and Enforce Safety Protocols at Worksites
Supervisors need to actively ensure that employees follow safety protocols at construction sites Enforce a strict policy that requires compliance with fall protection measures at all times. This includes not only the correct use of safety equipment, but also following established work procedures that reduce the risk of falls on the job.
Know the OSHA Fall Protection Regulations
OSHA has established important regulations when it comes to fall protection in the construction field. You should be familiar with and comply with these regulations if you want to reduce the chances of falls and other worksite accidents. Some regulations to pay attention to include:
1. Fall Protection in General Industry and the Construction Industry: OSHA’s fall protection standard (29 CFR 1926, Subpart M) outlines the requirements for fall protection systems you should be using on jobs where work is performed several feet above the ground. It covers a wide range of topics, including fall protection systems, training, and equipment requirements. Be sure to review this to protect employees from falls.
2. Guardrail Systems: OSHA requires workers to use guardrail systems to reduce their chance of fall injuries. These regulations detail the specific design and construction requirements for guardrails.
3. Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS): When guardrails are not feasible, PFAS are the primary means of fall protection. OSHA outlines the requirements for personal fall arrest systems, including anchor points, body harnesses, lanyards, and deceleration devices.
4. Training: Employers are required to provide training for employees who may be exposed to fall hazards. This training must cover how to recognize fall hazards, the use of fall protection equipment, and regulations related to fall protection.
Proper fall protection is a non-negotiable part of improving the safety of construction sites. The well-being of your team, along with your company’s legal and financial interests, depends on implementing effective fall protection measures. By identifying possible hazards, providing proper training to employees, using well-maintained safety equipment, and complying with OSHA regulations, you can create a safer construction worksite.
You can get even more peace of mind if you follow up these steps by ensuring you have the right business insurance for your company, with workers’ comp insurance being an especially vital part of your policy. This way, your employees, clients, and business as a whole will be protected even when disaster strikes.