Protecting Workers from Falls
Construction sites are among the most dangerous places to work. Between one-third to one-half of fatalities among construction workers are due to falls, mainly from roofs, ladders, and scaffolds. But falls can also occur on the ground, when workers slip or trip while moving around the site. Even when these falls are not fatal, disabling injuries, whether temporary or permanent, can result. For employers, these accidents can be personally and financially devastating, leading to higher insurance premiums, fines, and expensive lawsuits.
Because the consequences of even a single fall can be very serious, contractors must have in place a rigorous program for fall prevention. A good starting point is the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) general industry fall protection standard, which includes systems and procedures designed to prevent workers from falling off, onto, or through working levels, as well as to protect employees from being struck by falling objects. Failure to adhere to this basic standard can result in penalties and will likely place workers at risk.
Under the OSHA standard, construction employers are required to protect workers from fall hazards and falling objects whenever an affected employee is six feet or more above ground level. Protection must also be provided for construction workers who are exposed to the hazard of falling into dangerous equipment. These protective systems may take the form of guard rails, toe boards, coverings for floor openings, and safety nets to catch workers who fall and to protect workers below from falling objects. In some cases, workers will need to use personal fall arrest and restraint systems, which may consist of an anchorage, connectors, and a full body harness. The type of protective equipment and systems required will vary according to the conditions. Protective structures and equipment should always be inspected and approved by safety experts prior to each use.
Workers do not have to fall from great heights to be seriously injured. Climbing or standing on ladders can be hazardous when done improperly. Ladders should be checked regularly to ensure that they are not defective. But most ladder-related accidents are the result of dangerous working practices, such as improper placement, standing on the top step of a step ladder, leaning over, or carrying a heavy or unbalanced load. Materials can be hoisted up to higher levels using ropes so that workers do not have to carry loads while climbing ladders. Whenever possible, spotters should be assigned to ensure that ladders do not slip while workers are climbing or descending.
Falls can also occur on the ground when workers slip or trip. While falls can happen even on perfectly level surfaces, they are usually caused by tripping over equipment or debris, or by slipping on loose soil, mud, or ice. To minimize the risk of trips and slips, keep the worksite as clean as possible at all times, with any garbage or unneeded equipment or materials being removed as quickly as possible. Boots with extra traction may be required when conditions are especially slick due to mud or ice.
Such safety measures are, of course, only effective when used properly and consistently. No workers should be allowed to enter the site without first receiving safety training. OSHA and a number of industry associations provide safety videos in English and Spanish that illustrate risks and outline proper procedures. New workers may be paired with experienced employees who can show them the site, point out potential hazards, and demonstrate how to use protective gear. Safety rules must be strictly enforced, and workers who refuse to follow them should be dismissed. Signs with both words and pictures can serve as reminders to workers of proper safety practices while on the job.
To learn more about OSHA requirements and keeping your workers and employees safe, visit www.osha.gov.
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