Skip Navigation
Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Falling: Truth and Consequences


Why Fall Protection

Ever since we began working above ground level, falls have been among the most common causes of serious injuries and deaths. We all need fall protection because even those of us with years of experience working at heights can suddenly lose our balance or grip and fall. We may think that our reflexes are fast enough to protect us, but even if we have great balancing and motor skills, and when we’re distracted, we're at risk of falling

We've been falling since Day One. Until we get better at landing, we'll need protection from falling.

And, as the photo to the right illustrates, some people just don't understand fall hazards. Consequently they do things at work and home that defy good sense. The information in this course will help alert and prevent workers from falls.

See The Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction for a map of the Construction fatalities.

Read the material in each section to find the correct answers to each of the questions. After answering all questions, click the "Check Quiz Answers" button to see your score and a list of missed questions. To correct a question, return to the question, review the material, change your answer, and return to the last section page. Click the "Check Quiz Answers" again to recheck the results.

Do not use the browser's "Back" arrow or "Refresh" button to navigate course section pages. Use the dark tabs above (1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc.) to review/change missed questions.

Note: Videos and exercises in our courses are for information only and not required to view. Final exam questions will not be derived from the videos. OSHAcademy is not responsible for video content.

1. Why does every employee working at heights need fall protection?

a. To reduce the probability of a fall
b. Even experienced workers can fall
c. It provides a sense of security
d. To comply with OSHA requirements

Next Section

Types of Falls


Construction is a potentially high hazard industry for those who work in it, with falls at the top of the hazards list. Falls are the most frequent cause of fatalities at construction sites and annually account for one of every three construction-related deaths. Here are some interesting statistics:

  • Each year in the U.S. more than 300 construction workers are killed and more than 10,000 are seriously injured by falls from heights.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), slips, trips, or falls took the lives of 887 workers in 2017 - the highest number in over 30 years.
  • Falls from roofs are the most frequent cause of fatal falls in construction, and 80% of rooftop falls are fatal.

Click on the button to see a prioritized list showing the types of falls that cause the most non-fatal injuries.

As you can see, most fall injuries are caused by falls from ladders.

  1. Falls from ladders
  2. Falls to lower level, unspecified
  3. Falls from roofs
  4. 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 or stacked material

2. Which type of fall results in the most construction industry fatalities?

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

Next Section

Positioning System
(Click to enlarge)

Fall Prevention and Protection

For many in the construction industry, when speaking of fall-protection, equipment is the first thing that comes to mind: personal fall-arrest systems, safety nets, or guardrails, for example. But fall protection means more than equipment. Fall protection is what you do to eliminate fall hazards, prevent falls, and ensure that workers who may fall aren't injured.

Although fall hazards are common at construction worksites, fall-related injuries and fatalities are preventable. Fall hazards can be addressed in two main ways:

  1. Preventing falls: Workers prevent falls by eliminating the need to work above ground level and by using passive fall prevention controls such as using guardrails, positioning and restraint systems, and hole covers.
  2. Limiting falls: Workers limit injury after a fall by using active fall protection such as personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) or safety nets, and having an effective rescue plan.

We'll discuss these basic strategies in more detail in Module 3. Click on the button to see a list of strategies to help prevent falls on the worksite.

To prevent falls, be sure to do the following:

  • make fall protection part of your construction worksite safety and health program;
  • identify and evaluate fall hazards before the start of work;
  • eliminate fall hazards, if possible;
  • train workers to recognize and control 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; and
  • become familiar with OSHA and company fall-protection guidelines and mandatory requirements.

3. Which of the following methods is an example of fall prevention?

a. Safety nets
b. Fall arrest systems
c. Guardrails
d. A rescue plan

Next Section

Fall Protection Hierarchy

It’s important to use a systematic "Hierarchy of Controls" for fall protection. In descending order of preference, the hierarchy of controls for fall protection is as follows:

  1. Elimination or substitution. Examples: Eliminate a hazard by lowering the work surface to ground level. Substitute a hazard by moving a process, sequence, or procedure to a different location so that workers no longer approach a fall hazard.
  2. Passive fall protection. Isolate or separate the hazard or work practice from workers through the use of guardrails or covers over exposed floor openings.
  3. Fall restraint. Secure the worker to an anchor using a lanyard short enough to prevent the worker’s center of mass from reaching the fall hazard.
  4. Fall arrest. This includes systems designed to stop a worker’s fall after a fall has begun.
  5. Administrative controls. These work practices or procedures signal or warn a worker to avoid approaching a fall hazard. For example a person may be appointed to monitor work around fall hazards.

4. When possible, what is the most effective hazard control during construction?

a. Elimination
b. Passive fall protection
c. Fall restraint
d. Administrative controls

Next Section

Fall-Protection Roles

Everyone at the construction worksite has a role to play in preventing falls.

  • Employers: Identify fall hazards at the site. Eliminate the hazards, prevent falls from occurring, or ensure that employees aren't injured if falls occur. Ensure 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 those who work at height 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 identifying and controlling hazards that cause falls.

5. Who is responsible for recognizing and eliminating fall hazards, ensuring training is conducted, and preventing injuries?

a. Manufacturers
b. Employees
c. Employers
d. Building owners

Next Section


Prevent falls through skylights. (Click to enlarge)

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. To prevent falls through skylights, the employer should have covered skylights with screens, guarded skylights with railings or guardrails, or required the estimator to use proper fall arrest systems.

6. Which of the following would fail to provide adequate protection against falls through skylights?

a. Screens
b. Glass/plastic covers
c. Railings or guardrails
d. Fall arrest systems

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.



A Life-Changing Moment (Short Version) - Washington State Dept. of Labor and Industries 2007 - Video V1230 - A true story of one man's tragic accident in Washington state. The injured worker had received no safety training nor had been given fall protection gear when he fell and became paralyzed from the waist down. He was lucky, he lived to tell this story and hopes that others will be spared his pain. Includes requirements and recommendations for scaffolding.

Next Module