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Falling: Truth and Consequences


Falling Protection

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 even if we have great balancing and motor skills, we are 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.

Falling Causes


Construction is a potentially high hazard industry for those who work in it, with falls at the top of the hazards list. In fact, falls are the most frequent cause of fatalities at construction sites and annually account for one of every three construction-related deaths. Although there are commonly available methods for preventing falls, the number of construction workers who fall to their deaths has increased in recent years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), falls, slips, or trips took the lives of 668 workers in 2012. Falls to a lower level accounted for just more than 80% of those fatalities in that same year.

Of this total falls from roofs are one specific concern at construction sites and the most frequent cause for fatal falls in construction. In fact, BLS reports that from 2003 to 2007 construction worker falls from roofs resulted in 686 fatalities.

Below is 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
Positioning System
(Click to enlarge)

Preventing Falls

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, to prevent falls, and to ensure that workers who may fall are not 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. Fall prevention: preventing workers from falling by using engineering controls (e.g., guardrails and hole covers) or restraint systems.
  2. Fall arrest/rescue: preventing injury during and after a fall by using personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) or safety nets and having an effective rescue plan in place.

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.
  • 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.

Fall Protection Hierarchy

It’s important to use a systematic “Hierarchy of Controls” specifically 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.
  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.

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 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.


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.


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.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Falls account for _____ construction-related deaths.

2. Which of the following cause the most fall injuries?

3. What should you do to accomplish effective fall protection?

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

5. Employees must learn to recognize _____ practices, know the tasks that _____ the risk of falling.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.