Fall Prevention Guidelines: How to Prevent Falls in the Workplace

Falls are a leading cause of workplace injuries and deaths, especially in the construction and manufacturing industries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls are the second most common cause of workers’ compensation claims and account for a significant portion of lost workdays.

Having a fall prevention program in place is crucial for worker safety and to help prevent OSHA recordables.

OSHA Fall Protection Guidelines

To prevent falls in the workplace, it is important to follow OSHA’s fall protection guidelines. These guidelines outline the steps that employers should take to protect their employees from falls, including identifying fall hazards, providing fall protection systems, and training employees on fall protection.

OSHA has rules to protect people who work high up. These rules help to make sure that people do not fall and get hurt. Employers must provide safe, secure fall protection for workers who are exposed to falls from the following heights:

  • Four feet in general industry workplaces
  • Five feet in shipyards
  • Six feet in the construction industry
  • Eight feet in longshore operations

OSHA also provides employers with other detailed regulations to protect employees from fall-related hazards, such as:

  • If you are an employee working on a surface where there is an unprotected side or edge that is six feet or more above a lower level, you must use fall protection (via guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems).
  • Employers must provide fall protection for their employees whenever they are working over dangerous equipment, whether or not the potential fall distance is significant.
  • Holes in the floor must be completely guarded, with a railing and toe board or with a cover.
  • Guardrails and toe boards must be used around open-sided platforms, floors, and runways
  • To keep workers safe on the job, employers must provide training regarding height-related hazards and dangers, as well as information about how to stay safe while working at heights.
fall prevention guidelines how to prevent falls in the workplace

How to Reduce Falls in the Workplace

Most fall injuries and fatalities are preventable and there are steps that can and should be taken to keep workers safe from falls at all times. These steps include:

Identifying Fall Hazards

One of the first steps in preventing falls is identifying fall hazards in the workplace. This includes looking for areas where workers may be at risk of falling, such as high platforms, roofs, and ladders. It is important to regularly inspect these areas for any potential hazards, such as wet or slippery surfaces, loose flooring, or unsecured handrails.

Fall Protection Systems

Once fall hazards have been identified, the next step is to provide fall protection systems to keep employees safe. This can include installing guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems. It is important to choose the right fall protection system for the specific hazard, as each system has its own limitations and proper use instructions.

Proper Training for Employees

In addition to providing fall protection systems, it is also important to train employees on how to use them properly. This includes demonstrating how to put on and use harnesses, as well as how to properly use guardrails and other fall protection equipment. Employers should also provide ongoing training and reminders to ensure that employees are consistently using fall protection systems correctly.

Types of Fall Protection Systems

There are two ways to protect yourself from falling. One is called a fall restraint system. This keeps you from falling in the first place using equipment such as rails or toe boards. The other way is called a fall arrest system. This catches you if you do fall using equipment like harnesses or safety nets.

Employers may consider some combination of the following:

Guardrails and Handrails

  • Guardrails must include top rails, mid rails, and posts, and must be 42 inches high
  • Stair rails must be securely fastened to or mounted on a wall or partition, and be 30 to 34 inches above the surface

Toe boards

  • Use barriers at the base of a working area, and prevent tools from falling or employees’ feet from slipping over an edge
  • Must be at least four inches high, be securely fastened in place, and have no more than 1/4 inch clearance above floor level

Full-body or chest harness

  • Keeps an employee suspended in the event of a fall
  • Body belts, which work in conjunction with harnesses, are not by themselves considered acceptable as part of a personal fall arrest system in the construction industry and should be used only for positioning.

Safety net

  • May be used up to a distance of 25 feet below the working surface
  • Especially useful on construction sites

Proper scaffolding

  • Scissor lifts are considered to be scaffolding and require fall protection when at least 10 feet off the ground; however, most scissor lifts are outfitted with guardrails, which satisfies OSHA’s fall protection requirement
  • When working on suspended scaffolding, employees must be tied to an anchor point or use a fall protection system that’s not connected to the scaffold
  • OSHA has more information on specific types of scaffolding and the fall protection required for each
fall prevention guidelines how to prevent falls in the workplace

Guidelines for Staying Safe While Using a Ladder

In 2016, approximately 170 workers died from a fall off of a ladder, and falls of six feet or greater off of ladders are often fatal. To avoid fatalities and other ladder-related injuries, please adhere to the following requirements.

Requirements for all ladders29 CFR 1910.23 (Ladders-General)

  • Ladder rungs must be between 10 and 14 inches apart. Exceptions:
    • Stepstools
    • Telecommunication ladders
    • Manhole ladders
    • Elevator pit ladders
  • Objects being carried up a ladder should not throw off the balance of the climber.
  • All ladders must be strong enough to support their established maximum intended load.
  • Ladders should not be moved while in use.
  • All ladder rungs must be parallel, even, level, and shaped in a way that a worker’s feet cannot slide off of the rungs.
  • Wooden ladders should be easy to inspect for damage, and inspected regularly.
  • Metal ladders should be protected against corrosion and have a non-slip texture on the rungs.
  • Ladders should have non-conductive side rails if used near electrical equipment.
  • Damaged ladders should be labeled “DO NOT USE” and decommissioned or repaired.
  • Single rail ladders are explicitly forbidden by both 1910.23 (General) and 1926.1053 (Construction).
fall prevention guidelines how to prevent falls in the workplace

Final Thoughts on Fall Prevention in the Workplace

By following OSHA’s fall protection guidelines, employers can significantly reduce the risk of falls in the workplace and keep their employees safe. Regular inspections, proper fall protection systems, and employee training are all crucial in preventing falls and ensuring a safe work environment.

Contact WorkSafe to find out how we can help your company today!

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OSHA Fall Protection Standards for Construction

OSHA Fall Protection Standards for Non-Construction Industries

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