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Identifying and Evaluating Fall Hazards


Fall Hazard Defined

A fall hazard is anything in the workplace that could cause an unintended loss of balance or bodily support and result in a fall. Fall hazards cause accidents such as the following:

  • A worker walking near the edge of a loading dock falls to the lower level.
  • A worker falls while climbing a defective ladder.
  • A weak ladder collapses under the weight of a heavy worker carrying tools.
  • A worker carrying a heavy box falls down a stairway.

Despite the examples above, the vast majority of fall hazards are foreseeable. You can identify them and eliminate or control them before they cause injuries.

1. Most workplace fall hazards are _____.

a. unforeseeable
b. foreseeable
c. mostly unknown
d. unknowable

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How to Evaluate Fall Hazards

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The purpose of evaluating fall hazards is to determine how serious they are so you can eliminate or control the most serious hazards before they cause injuries. Let's take a look at some important factors to consider when conducting a hazard evaluation:

Identify Potential Falling Issues

One of the best procedures for identifying potential and actual fall hazards is to conduct a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA). For construction sites, conduct a Phase Hazard Analysis (PHA).

  • A JHA is a technique that focuses on job tasks as a way to identify hazards before they occur. It focuses on the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment.
  • A PHA (also known as a Safe Work Plan) should be submitted and approved prior to the start of all construction projects. The PHA analyzes the hazards on the project at each phase of construction. Be sure to evaluate each phase of the project from the ground up.

Involve Others

To conduct an effective evaluation, you should involve others: the more eyes you have on a problem, the better. Involve those who may be exposed to fall hazards and their supervisors; they'll help you identify the hazards and determine how to eliminate or control them. Involving others also strengthens your safety and health program. Your workers' compensation insurance carrier and OSHA will also help you evaluate fall hazards. Contact your insurance carrier to request a consultation.

2. One of the best procedures to identify fall hazards in general industry is to _____.

a. conduct a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA)
b. conduct a table-top exercise
c. conduct a walkaround inspection
d. discuss the topic in training

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How to Evaluate Fall Hazards (continued)

Identify Tasks That Could Expose Workers to Falls

Asking the right questions is extremely important when trying to identify areas of concern and tasks that present a risk of falling. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Will workers be using portable ladders, supported scaffolds, aerial lifts, or suspension platforms to reach their work areas?
  • Which ones will they use? How and where will they use the equipment?
  • Will tasks expose workers to overhead power lines?
  • Will they need to use scaffolds, ladders, or aerial lifts on unstable or uneven ground?
  • Will they be working during hot, cold, or windy weather?
  • Will workers need to frequently lift, bend, or move in ways that put them off balance?
  • Will they be working extended shifts that could contribute to fatigue?
  • Will they be exposed to slip, trip, or fall hazards?

Determine How Workers Will Access Elevated Surfaces to Perform Their Tasks

It's important to determine if employees are accessing elevated work surfaces safely. Ask the following questions:

  • Will workers be using portable ladders, supported scaffolds, aerial lifts, or suspension platforms to reach their work areas?
  • Which method of access will they use?
  • How and where will they use the equipment?

3. Each of the following is an important question to ask when identifying tasks that could expose workers to falls from elevated work surfaces EXCEPT, _____.

a. "Will they be using scaffolds?"
b. "Will they be using reflective clothing?"
c. "Will they be exposed to slip, trip, or fall hazards?"
d. "Will they be Working near powerlines?"

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How to Evaluate Fall Hazards (continued)

Identify Hazardous Work Areas


Awareness of work areas that might pose a fall hazard is also very important. Work areas change regularly, so never assume that a work area that is safe today will be safe tomorrow. Work area factors that could increase the risk of falls include:

  • Holes in walking-working surfaces that they could step into or fall through.
  • Elevated walking-working surfaces six feet or more above a lower level.
  • Skylights and smoke domes that workers could step into or fall through.
  • Wall openings such as those for windows or doors that workers could fall through.
  • Trenches and other excavations that workers could fall into.
  • Walking-working surfaces from which workers could fall onto dangerous equipment.
  • Hoist areas where guardrails have been removed to receive materials.
  • Sides and edges of walking-working surfaces such as established floors, mezzanines, balconies, and walkways that are four feet or more above a lower level and not protected by guardrails at least 39 inches high.
  • Ramps and runways that are not protected by guardrails at least 39 inches high.
  • Leading edges - edges of floors, roofs, and decks - that change location as additional sections are added.
  • Wells, pits, or shafts not protected with guardrails, fences, barricades, or covers.

4. To reduce the risk of a fall injury, sides and edges of walking-working surfaces should have guardrails if they are _____.

a. any height above ground level
b. four feet or more above a lower level
c. not level for at least six feet
d. used by workers daily

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How to Evaluate Fall Hazards (continued)

Determine How Frequently Workers Will Do Tasks that Expose Them to Falls

The more frequently a worker is exposed to a fall hazard the more likely it is that the worker could fall.

Determine If and How Workers Need to Move

Determine whether workers need to move horizontally, vertically, or in both directions to do their tasks. How workers move to perform tasks can affect their risk of falling. Knowing how they move to perform tasks can help you determine how to protect them.

Determine the Degree of Exposure

Generally, the more workers that are exposed to a fall hazard, the more likely it is one could fall.

Determine Hazardous Walking-Working Surfaces

Identify walking-working surfaces that could expose workers to fall hazards. Examples: floors, roofs, ramps, bridges, runways, formwork, beams, columns, trusses, and rebar. Actually, there is no no way to make a totally hazard-free walking-working surface in the workplace: it's dangerous to assume anything different.

5. Which statement is true regarding walking-working surfaces?

a. There's no way to make a totally hazard-free walking-working surface in the workplace.
b. Hazard-free walking-working surfaces only occur at floor level.
c. Hazard-free walking-working surfaces are possible using administrative controls.
d. It's possible to remove all hazards on a working surface through sound engineering.

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Determine Probability

The probability, or likelihood, of a fall depends primarily on on three factors (there are others):

  1. Frequency of exposure. The more frequently a worker is exposed to a fall hazard the more likely it is that the worker could fall.
  2. Duration of exposure. The longer a worker is exposed to a particular hazard, the greater the likelihood of a fall.
  3. Scope of exposure. The greater the number of workers exposed to a hazard, or the greater number of similar hazards in a given area increases the likelihood of a fall.

Determine Severity

Click to play video

Severity is an estimate of how serious the injury will be as a result of a fall. Estimating the severity of an injury for any given fall is difficult as it is really a matter of chance or luck.

A basic rule when it comes to severity of an injury after a fall is that, "it's not the fall that gets you, it's that sudden deceleration after." Seriously, the factors that determines the severity of a fall include:

  1. Distance of the fall. A person in free-fall will accelerate until he or she reaches a terminal velocity of about 120 mph. As you can see by watching the video to the right, this does not always mean the body will suffer a fatal injury. Severity depends on the other factors as well.
  2. Speed of deceleration. The faster you stop or decelerate at impact, the greater the impact forces on the body and severity of injury.
  3. Nature of the surface. The "hardness" of the surface upon which the worker falls affects the intensity of the impact and the severity of injury.
  4. Orientation of the body at impact. This is where the "luck" factor in a fall applies. While people fallen out of airplanes and lived, yet, other have fallen only a few feet and died. Severity of the injury also depends on the position of the body when it strikes the surface, and that is a matter of luck more than anything else.

6. The severity of a fall depends on each of the following factors EXCEPT _____.

a. the distance of the fall
b. the origin of the fall
c. the nature of the surface at impact
d. the orientation of the body at impact

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Determine Fall Distances


Determine fall distances from walking-working surfaces to lower levels. As we mentioned earlier, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry and eight feet in longshoring operations. In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.

The four-foot rule. In general industry, workers must be protected from fall hazards on walking-working surfaces where they could fall four feet or more to a lower level. examples of fall hazards from which employees must be protected by the "four foot rule" include:

  • Holes and skylights in walking-working surfaces
  • Wall openings that have an inside bottom edge less than 39 inches above a walking-working surface
  • Established floors, mezzanines, balconies, and walkways with unprotected sides and edges

The six-foot rule. OSHA's construction standard requires the use of fall protection when construction workers are working at heights of six feet or greater above a lower level. This is called the "six-foot rule" and applies only to construction. For example, it might require fall protection according to the six-foot rule for a worker who is:

  • on a ramp, runway, or another walkway;
  • at the edge of an excavation;
  • in a hoist area;
  • on a steep roof;
  • on, at, above, or near wall openings;
  • on a walking or working surface with holes (including skylights) or unprotected sides or edges; or
  • above a lower level where leading edges are under construction; on the face of formwork and reinforcing steel.

In all industries, workers must be protected at any height from falling onto or into dangerous equipment such as machinery with open drive belts, pulleys or gears or open vats of degreasing agents or acid..

7. For fall protection, the "six-foot rule" applies to _____.

a. mining operations
b. agriculture
c. general industry
d. construction

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Controlling Fall Hazards and Exposure


Controlling hazards in the workplace, no matter what the situation, is generally done using a systematic method call the "Hierarchy of Controls." It’s important to use this method, especially for fall protection. In descending order of preference, the hierarchy of controls for fall protection is as follows:

  1. Elimination or substitution. For example, eliminate a hazard by lowering the work surface to ground level, or move (substitute) a process, sequence or procedure to a different location so that workers no longer approach a fall hazard. A common method is to use an extension tool that allows the worker to get the job done from ground level.
  2. Engineering controls. Isolate or separate the hazard from workers through the use of guardrails or covers over exposed floor openings.
  3. Administrative controls. These work practices or procedures signal or warn a worker to avoid approaching a fall hazard. Policies and procedures for using fall protection equipment and inspection procedures while working at elevation are examples of administrative controls.
  4. Fall protection equipment. Fall protection equipment is used in conjunction with the other controls, and success is determined primarily by the quality of the equipment and the compliance to procedures. The primary uses for fall protection equipment are:
    • Fall restraint – to keep the worker away from the fall hazard to prevent a fall.
    • Fall arrest – to prevent injury if the worker does fall.
    • Safety nets – to safely catch the worker if a fall occurs.

It’s important to understand that the first priority is to eliminate the hazard. Never work at elevation if you don't have to. Doing so may not prevent a fall, but it will likely decrease both the probability and severity of the injury.

8. Which of the following would totally eliminate exposure to a fall-to-below hazard?

a. Place guard rails around the elevated surface
b. Lower the work surface to ground level
c. Substitute fall arrest with fall restraint equipment
d. Enforce safety rules at all times

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.


Residential Fall Protection

This is a Public Resource Organization video about residential fall protection.

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