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The First Step Is A Doozy

Fall-protection Basics

Published: December 2014
By Tom O'Connor

In 2013, there were 796 on-the-job fatalities in the construction industry, 294 of which were caused by falls. Additionally, improper fall protection is one of the most cited violations on job sites by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These staggering statistics are a reminder that fall protection must be taken seriously.

OSHA has a number of stringent regulations pertaining to fall protection. Most commonly known is the 6-foot rule, which states that, if an employee is in a situation where he or she could fall 6 feet or more or to a lower level, the employer must provide fall protection.

OSHA recently embarked on a fall-prevention campaign, stating on its website: "When working from heights, such as ladders, scaffolds, and roofs, employers must plan projects to ensure that the job is done safely. Begin by deciding how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved, and what safety equipment may be needed to complete each task."

The cost of safety equipment should never be a factor that prevents proper planning for the job. At the start, all of the necessary equipment and tools should be available at the construction site. These may include personal fall-arrest systems (PFAS) and the right kinds of ladders, scaffolds and safety gear.

According to OSHA's fall-prevention campaign website, "Different ladders and scaffolds are appropriate for different jobs. Always provide workers with the kind they need to get the job done safely. For roof work, there are many ways to prevent falls. If workers use a harness, each worker needs to tie off to an anchor point. Make sure the PFAS fits, and regularly inspect all fall protection equipment to ensure it's still in good condition and safe to use."

In addition to using proper fall-arrest devices or positioning equipment (such as body harnesses, lanyards, lifelines and rope grabs), other protective measures (such as catch platforms, guardrails and safety nets) can be used as secondary or backup fall protection.

Once all of the safety equipment is on hand for a given job, it is important that employees know how to use it properly. They should be trained on function, care and safe use as well as hazard recognition and avoidance. Falls can be prevented when workers understand and use safety equipment properly.

Prior to using any fall protection, always inspect fall-arrest equipment and positioning devices. Any evidence of breaks, abrasions, undue stretching, deterioration, mold, corrosion or other defects should result in the equipment being tagged and removed from service. Fall-arrest equipment should be adjusted so that a free fall of more than 6 feet can never occur.

Additionally, employees using a PFAS should never be able to come in contact with a lower object. Anchor points should always be used and able to support at least 5,000 pounds per employee. Ideally, the anchor points should be located overhead or a minimum of waist-high.

When using positioning equipment, it should be adjusted so that falls of more than 2 feet never occur. When using lanyards to help prevent disengagement of snap hook connections, never use multiple snap hooks connected to one D-ring, more than one snap hook connected to another, a snap hook connected back on its integral lanyards, or snap hooks connected to loops made in webbing-type lanyards, unless designed otherwise.

If vertical lifelines are used, they should also be protected by a separate lifeline, which must be properly weighted at the bottom. Horizontal lifelines should not be used unless instructed by a supervisor.

Finally, when storing fall-arrest equipment and positioning devices, ensure they are kept in a dry place and away from direct sunlight. Any fall-arrest equipment or positioning device subjected to an impact caused by a free fall or by testing should never be reused.

If you would like more information, OSHA has numerous materials and resources that employers can use during toolbox talks to train workers on safe fall-related practices in construction available at