Fall protection: Do you know fall hazards when you see them?
You know what a fall hazard is, right? Here’s a summary of what they are and how to evaluate them.
What is a fall hazard?
A fall hazard is anything in the workplace that could cause an unintended loss of balance or bodily support and result in a fall. Fall hazards cause accidents such as the following:
- A worker walking near an unprotected leading edge trips over a protruding board.
- A worker slips while climbing an icy stairway.
- A makeshift scaffold collapses under the weight of four workers and their equipment.
- A worker carrying a sheet of plywood on a flat roof steps into a skylight opening.
Fall hazards are foreseeable. You can identify them and eliminate or control them before they cause injuries.
How to evaluate fall hazards
The purpose of evaluating fall hazards is to determine how to eliminate or control them before they cause injuries. Below are important factors to consider in conducting an evaluation:
Involve others. You may need others to help you evaluate fall hazards. Involve those who may be exposed to fall hazards and their supervisors; they’ll help you identify the hazards and determine how to eliminate or control them. Involving others also strengthens your safety and health program. Your workers’ compensation insurance carrier and Oregon OSHA will also help you evaluate fall hazards. Contact your insurance carrier to request a consultation. Contact Oregon OSHA’s Consultative Services Section to schedule an on-site evaluation, (503) 378-3272.
Determine how workers will access elevated surfaces to perform their tasks. Will workers be using portable ladders, supported scaffolds, aerial lifts, or suspension platforms to reach their work areas? Which ones will they use? How and where will they use the equipment?
Identify tasks that could expose workers to falls. Using a set of worksite plans, review the entire construction project. Evaluate each phase of the project from the ground up. Ensure that all walking/working surfaces have the strength to support workers and their equipment, then identify all tasks that could expose workers to falls. A walking/working surface is any surface, horizontal or vertical, on which a person walks or works.
Identify hazardous work areas. Determine if workers’ tasks could expose them to the following fall hazards:
- Holes in walking/working surfaces that they could step into or fall through.
- Elevated walking/working surfaces 10 feet or more above a lower level.
- Skylights and smoke domes that workers could step into or fall through.
- Wall openings such as those for windows or doors that workers could fall through.
- Trenches and other excavations that workers could fall into.
- Walking/working surfaces from which workers could fall onto dangerous equipment.
- Hoist areas where guardrails have been removed to receive materials.
- Sides and edges of walking/working surfaces such as established floors, mezzanines, balconies, and walkways that are 6 feet or more above a lower level and not protected by guardrails at least 39 inches high.
- Ramps and runways that are not protected by guardrails at least 39 inches high.
- Leading edges — edges of floors, roofs, and decks — that change location as additional sections are added.
- Wells, pits, or shafts not protected with guardrails, fences, barricades, or covers.
Determine how frequently workers will do tasks that expose them to falls. The more frequently a worker is exposed to a fall hazard the more likely it is that the worker could fall.
Determine whether workers need to move horizontally, vertically, or in both directions to do their tasks. How workers move to perform tasks can affect their risk of falling. Knowing how they move to perform tasks can help you determine how to protect them.
Determine the number of workers exposed to fall hazards. Generally, the more workers that are exposed to a fall hazard, the more likely it is one could fall.
Identify walking/working surfaces that could expose workers to fall hazards. Examples: floors, roofs, ramps, bridges, runways, formwork, beams, columns, trusses, and rebar.
Determine fall distances from walking/working surfaces to lower levels. Generally, workers must be protected from fall hazards on walking/working surfaces where they could fall 10 feet or more to a lower level. However, workers must be protected from falls of 6 feet or more from any of the following:
- Holes and skylights in walking/working surfaces.
- Wall openings that have an inside bottom edge less than 39 inches above a walking/working surface.
- Established floors, mezzanines, balconies, and walkways with unprotected sides and edges.
- Excavations with edges that are not readily seen because of plant growth or other visual barriers.
- Wells, pits, shafts and similar excavations.
Workers must also be protected from falling onto or into dangerous equipment.
Ensure that existing guardrails and covers meet Subdivision 3/M requirements. Guardrails must be designed and built to meet the requirements of 1926.502(b). Covers must meet the requirements of 1926.502(i).
Identify fall hazards that you can eliminate. Eliminating a fall hazard is the most effective fall-protection strategy. Ways to eliminate fall hazards:
- Perform construction work on the ground before lifting or tilting it to an elevated position.
- Install permanent stairs early in the project so that workers don’t need to use ladders between floors.
- Use tool extensions to perform work from the ground.
Identify fall hazards that you can’t eliminate. If you can’t eliminate fall hazards, you need to prevent falls or control them so that workers who may fall are not injured.
- Ways to prevent falls include covers, guardrails, handrails, perimeter safety cables, and personal fall-restraint systems.
- Ways to control falls include personal fall-arrest systems, positioning-device systems, and safety-net systems. Use these fall-protection systems only when you can’t eliminate fall hazards or prevent falls from occurring.
Consider administrative practices. Administrative practices help prevent falls by influencing the way people work. Examples include substituting a safe work practice for a risky one, training workers how to do their jobs safely, and disciplining those who don’t follow safe practices.
Determine whether anchorages are necessary. If workers use personal fall-arrest or restraint systems, they’ll need secure anchorages for their lifelines or lanyards. Anchorages for personal fall-arrest systems must be able to support at least 5,000 pounds per attached worker or be designed with a safety factor of at least two — twice the impact force of a worker free-falling 6 feet. Anchorages for personal fall-restraint systems must be able to support at least 3,000 pounds per attached worker or be designed with a safety factor of at least two — twice the peak anticipated dynamic load.Consider other factors that could increase the risk of falls. Consider the environment. Will workers’ tasks expose them to overhead power lines? Will they need to use scaffolds, ladders, or aerial lifts on unstable or uneven ground? Will they be working during hot, cold, or windy weather? Consider ergonomics. Will workers need to frequently lift, bend, or move in ways that put them off balance? Will they be working extended shifts that could contribute to fatigue?