Despite special emphasis programs from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and increasingly sophisticated fall-protection equipment, falls from height remain a serious occupational safety challenge.
Falls from ladders and roofs still account for the majority of falls. Occupational fatalities caused by falls remain a serious public health problem. The U.S. Department of Labor lists falls as one of the leading causes of traumatic occupational death, accounting for 8 percent of all occupational fatalities from trauma. Identifying fall hazards and deciding how best to protect workers is the first step in reducing or eliminating fall hazards. OSHA mandates that any time a worker is at a height of 4 feet or more, the worker is at risk and needs protection. Fall protection must be provided at 4 feet in general industry, 5 feet in maritime and 6 feet in construction.
Experts have identified six major recurring errors in fall protection. From the least to most common, they are:
- Mistake No. 1: Waiting for the free fall.
Don’t wait for a fall to occur before taking action to update your fall-protection plan. When identifying a fall hazard, analyze the likelihood of fatal or serious injury, as well as the amount of time employees will be exposed to the hazard. Basically, you want to eliminate the fall by changing the work process or environment. If you remember these three steps for proper fall protection eliminate a fall hazard entirely, prevent a fall from happening and provide personal fall-arrest equipment — you will save lives and prevent serious injuries.
- Mistake No. 2: Anchorages that miss the mark.
Selecting inadequate anchorages is a major problem. The best harness with the best lanyard or lifeline cannot arrest a fall if the user chooses unsuitable anchorages. An anchorage must support 5,000 pounds for a single tie-off point for one individual. In all cases, the free fall should be limited to 6 feet or less. An anchorage should be positioned directly overhead whenever possible to avoid a swing-fall injury, and anchorages should be
selected based on how a rescue would be performed.
- Mistake No. 3: Lack of communication/training.
Lack of instructions—in the appropriate language—is a key reason people misuse equipment or don’t use it at all. Safety directors need to check the instructions provided with the equipment and ensure they provide proper training. As an employer, you can determine the training format. What’s important is that, through training, your employees can recognize fall hazards and know procedures to minimize the hazards. It’s important that the trainer knows the hazards at the work site, knows how to eliminate or control the hazards and knows how to teach workers to protect themselves. That’s why the trainer must be a competent person. (A competent person is one who can identify work-site hazards and who has management authority to control them.) The trainer must know and be able to explain the following:
• The nature of fall hazards at the work site
• Procedures for erecting, maintaining and disassembling fallprotection systems and personal fall-arrest systems
• How to use and operate fall-protection systems and
personal fall-arrest systems
• The role of each employee who may be affected by a safetymonitoring system
• The restrictions that apply to mechanical equipment used
during roofing work
- Mistake No. 4: Know when to say when.
Knowing when to remove a product from service is key to safe working conditions. You must inspect
equipment regularly and take it out of service if it shows wear and tear. Using equipment past its useful life, especially a lanyard, is a potentially deadly mistake. A good idea is to adopt a smart policy: If in doubt, throw it out. The benefit of an extra week or month of service isn’t worth the risk. Be on the lookout for fraying, cuts and deformed metal hardware. Also, exposure to heat and chemicals can cause damage. Finally, signs of deployment mean you can no longer use that safety equipment.
- Mistake No. 5: Which way does this go?
Although more workers today are using fallprotection gear, they don’t always use it correctly. In many instances, workers wear the harnesses too loose. While misusing harnesses in that way is a big mistake, many contractors also buy incorrect equipment for specific applications. One common example is that many contractors buy shockabsorbing lanyards and use them in areas with inadequate fall clearance. A retractable lifeline or a fall limiter should be used, instead, depending— of course—on the circumstances.
- Mistake No. 6: Not using fall protection equipment.
Many users ignore the need for consistency in using fall protection. Thus, it is important to have a plan and implement it, and that means wearing fall-protection equipment every day. The plan should include identification and evaluation of fall hazards and their elimination, if possible; the use of appropriate fall-protection systems to prevent or control falls when you can’t eliminate hazards; ensuring that employees receive fall-protection training; and inspecting and maintaining equipment.