The Need for Fall Protection

copyright 2022

The death of an employee who fell two stories to his death at a Massachusetts construction site might have been prevented if his employer had supplied the required fall protection, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Click here to read frequently asked questions from OSHA about fall protection in residential construction.

As a result, the general contractor on the construction of a new college dormitory faced $46,200 in fines for alleged willful and serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The fatality occurred when a crew of laborers was dismantling a temporary work platform on the second floor level of an unfinished stairwell. One man fell through the partially dismantled platform.

OSHA's inspectors found the employer did not provide adequate protection for its workers — exposing them to falls of almost 26 feet from the work platform. The employees also weren't instructed to recognize and avoid such hazards.

Federal fall protection regulations. Under OSHA regulations, you must protect workers who could fall six or more feet. Construction companies and other employers must make sure that the surfaces that employees walk on have the necessary strength and structural integrity to support them safely.

When there's a chance of a fall of six feet or more, OSHA regulations call for the following:

  • Systems for guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest devices (for example, a safety belt) should be in place to protect employees from falling from a walking or working surface with an unprotected side or edge.

  • You should have guardrails or personal fall arrest systems for each employee in a hoist area. The employee must have a personal fall arrest system if the guardrail systems — or portions of it — are removed to aid the hoisting operation and the employee must lean through the access opening.

  • Personal fall arrest systems, covers, or guardrail systems need to be around holes that employees could fall through.

  • Guardrail systems, fences or barricades should be at the edge of excavations. This includes those with obstructed views when, for example, trees are in front of them.

The situations described above are not a comprehensive list. OSHA regulations specify that unless regulations stipulate otherwise, fall protection must be provided anywhere that a fall of six feet or greater could occur.

Protection is also needed against falling objects. In addition to personal falls to lower levels, OSHA fall protection regulations also address the hazard of falling objects.

When your workforce is exposed to falling objects, you must have each employee wear a hard hat and must implement one of the following measures:

  • Erect toeboards, screens, or guardrail systems to prevent objects from falling from higher levels.

  • Erect a canopy structure and keep potential fall objects far enough from the edge of the higher level so that the objects will not go over the edge if they are accidentally displaced.

  • Barricade the area that objects could fall on, prohibit employees from entering the barricaded area, and keep objects that may fall away from the edge of a higher level so that the objects won't drop if they're accidentally displaced.

Keep abreast of changes in fall protection regulations because OSHA may make revisions to its rules.