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Important Questions

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Why We Need Protection from Falling

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:

  • Healthcare support
  • Building cleaning and maintenance
  • Transportation and material moving
  • Construction and extraction occupations

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.

Quiz Instructions

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1. Which of the following industries experience the highest frequency of fall-related deaths?

a. Agriculture
b. Construction
c. Healthcare
d. Transportation

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When Do We Need Fall Protection?

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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.

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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.

2. What is widely understood among general industry employers as the "trigger height" that requires you to take action to protect your employees from falls?

a. Three feet above the lowest surface
b. Four feet above the ground or a lower level
c. Six feet above any walking-working surface
d. Eight feet above a lower level

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How Workers Fall

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.

  1. Falls from ladders
  2. Falls to lower levels (unspecified)
  3. Falls from roofs
  4. Falls from scaffolds or staging
  5. Falls from non-moving vehicles
  6. Falls from floors, docks, or ground level
  7. Falls down stairs
  8. Falls from girders or structural steel
  9. Falls from piled of stacked material

3. Most fall injuries are caused by falls ______.

a. down stairs
b. from scaffolds
c. from ladders
d. from roofs

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Why is a Fall Protection Program (FPP) Important?


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:

  • Make fall protection part of your workplace safety and health program.
  • Identify and evaluate fall hazards.
  • Eliminate fall hazards, if possible.
  • Train workers to recognize fall hazards.
  • Use appropriate equipment to prevent falls and to protect workers if they do fall.
  • Inspect and maintain fall-protection equipment before and after using it.
  • Become familiar with OSHA and company fall-protection rules.

4. What should you do to help make sure the Fall Protection Program is effective?

a. Discipline every time there is a fall
b. Report all falls to OSHA
c. Threaten employees with termination
d. Identify and evaluate fall hazards

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Your Role in the Fall Protection Program?

Everyone in the workplace, from top management to each employee has a personal responsibility for safety and role to play in preventing falls.

  • Employers: Identify fall hazards at the site. Eliminate the hazards, prevent falls from occurring, or ensure that if falls occur, employees aren't injured. Make sure that employees follow safe practices, use fall protection equipment properly, and are trained to recognize fall hazards.
  • Employees: Follow safe work practices, use equipment properly, and participate in training. Learn to recognize unsafe practices, know the tasks that increase the risk of falling, and understand how to control exposure to fall hazards.
  • Architects and engineers: Educate employers about hazards that could expose workers to falls during each phase of the project. When designing buildings and structures, consider fall protection and other safety needs of those who will do the construction work.
  • Building owners and managers: Ensure that those who do exterior construction or maintenance work know how to protect themselves from falls, are aware of installed anchorages, and know how to use their fall-protection equipment.
  • Equipment manufacturers: Ensure that fall-protection equipment meets federal OSHA and ANSI safety requirements and protects workers when they use it properly. Warn workers through instruction manuals and on equipment labels about the danger of using equipment improperly.
  • Lawyers: Review your client's construction bids to ensure that they comply with OSHA requirements. The documents should clearly state the client's responsibilities for protecting workers from falls and for identifying and controlling hazards that cause falls.

5. Who is responsible for making sure fall protection equipment is used properly?

a. Employees
b. Safety managers
c. Employers
d. Building managers

Check your Work

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Real-World 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.

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