We need protection because even those of us with experience working at heights can lose our balance or grip; we can slip, trip, or misstep at any time. We may think that our reflexes will protect us, but we're falling before we know it, and we don't have to fall far to be seriously injured. We've been falling since day one. Until we get better at landing, we'll need protection from falling.
The construction industry experienced the highest frequency of fall-related deaths, while the highest counts of nonfatal fall injuries continue to be associated with the health services and the wholesale and retail industries. Particularly at risk of fall injuries are those working in:
Fall injuries create a considerable financial burden: workers' compensation and medical costs associated with occupational fall incidents have been estimated at $70 billion annually in the United States.
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OSHA's general industry standards require employers to identify the potential for falls in the workplace and establish appropriate fall protection when they identify hazards. Four feet above the ground or a lower level is widely understood among general industry employers as the "trigger height" that requires you to take action to protect your employees from falls.
Did you know that some trigger heights in general industry differ from four feet? Working above or adjacent to dangerous equipment requires action to protect employees from falls onto that equipment, regardless of height, and many types of scaffolds have trigger heights above four feet.
Understanding OSHA’s fall protection trigger heights and the types of fall protection allowed in general industry will help you protect employees.
The tables in this section identify trigger heights for a variety of general industry situations employees may encounter.
Fall protection trigger heights are rule specific. Some trigger heights are activated when the height is met while others are activated when the height is exceeded. When this occurs, you must take action to protect your employees from the associated fall hazards.
Selecting, installing, maintaining, and using fall protection can be challenging. Browse through any safety supply website today and you will see a wide variety of fall protection systems; however, not all systems provide equivalent levels of worker protection. Furthermore, one fall protection system may not be appropriate for every workplace situation.
The rules referenced in the tables in this section will help you select appropriate fall protection systems when your employees work at heights that require you to take action to protect them.
Below is a list in order of priority showing the types of falls that cause the most injuries. As you can see, most fall injuries are caused by falls from ladders.
An effective Fall Protection Program describes policies, programs, plans, processes, procedures and practices that helps eliminate or reduce fall hazards, prevents falls, and ensures workers who may fall are not injured.
To make sure the Fall Protection Program is effective, accomplish the following:
Everyone in the workplace, from top management to each employee has a personal responsibility for safety and role to play in preventing falls.
Cost estimator falls through skylight opening:
On a Friday in June, an estimator arrived at a remodel job to look at a cedar-shake roof and estimate the cost of an addition that a construction crew was building. He spoke to the supervisor at the site and climbed to the roof through an open skylight, using a metal extension ladder.
However, he was unaware that the contractor had used a sheet of thin insulating material to cover three 2-by-6-foot skylight openings in the roof (it had rained the day before). He stepped onto the insulating material, fell through one of the skylights, and landed on his back, 15 feet below.
The supervisor and two subcontractors heard the estimator fall and rushed to the accident. One of the subcontractors used his cell phone to call emergency medical services. EMTs arrived about five minutes later, stabilized the victim and took him to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for spinal injuries.
Findings: The employer failed to properly cover the skylight openings on the roof or warn workers about the hazard.
This video by Robert Robillard, "The Concord Carpenter," covers how to select the best fall protection harness for the job.