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

Fall Hazard Risk Analysis

Analyze the Risk of Falling

fallscaffold

To effectively prevent and control fall hazards on the construction site, you need to conduct a 4-step risk analysis process. Using the risk analysis process, do the following:

  1. identify the actual and potential fall hazards on the construction project;
  2. determine the unique characteristics of each hazard;
  3. evaluate the danger each hazard poses to workers; and
  4. prioritize or rank each hazard according to its overall risk.

Identifying Hazardous Work Areas

It's important to identify areas in which workers' tasks could expose them to fall hazards.

Ask if workers will be using portable ladders, supported scaffolds, aerial lifts, or suspension platforms to reach their work areas. You will also want to know how and where workers will use the equipment. To answer these questions:

  • meet during the preplanning phase to determine the construction activities that will be occurring on the worksite; and
  • after construction starts, and in every phase after that, get on-site to identify the current and potential hazards that could exist in future phases.

Look at each phase of the project from the ground up. Ensure that all walking/working surfaces have the strength to support workers and their equipment and then identify all tasks that could expose workers to falls. A walking/working surface is any surface, horizontal or vertical, where a person walks or works.

Click on the button to see examples of areas on a worksite that have a track record of causing injuries.

  • holes in walking/working surfaces that they could step into or fall through
  • elevated walking/working surfaces six feet while performing construction and four feet for general industry (non-construction) 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 6 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

1. When should the employer meet with contractors to determine expected construction activities?

a. When the construction contract is signed
b. Prior to any anticipated OSHA inspection
c. When work begins on the project
d. During the project preplanning phase

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Identifying Fall Hazards

guardrails
What do you think? Is this a "high hazard" work area?

A fall hazard is anything in the workplace that could cause an accidental loss of balance or bodily support that results in a fall.

Fall hazards cause accidents such as the following:

  1. A worker walking near an unprotected leading edge trips over a protruding board.
  2. A worker slips while climbing an icy stairway.
  3. A makeshift scaffold collapses under the weight of four workers and their equipment.
  4. A worker is carrying a sheet of plywood on a flat roof and steps into a skylight opening.

Fall hazards are foreseeable. You can identify and control them before they cause injuries. The hazards that caused the above accidents could have been eliminated or controlled had they first been identified, evaluated, and corrected.

What are possible solutions that would prevent the falls described above?
Click on the button to find out.

  1. Worker #1 was either distracted or did not recognize and correct the hazards. Had he been aware, he could have taken proper fall protection measures.
  2. Worker #2 did not identify and evaluate the hazard. He would have then taken measures to prevent slipping.
  3. Had the scaffold in #3 been properly inspected and evaluated before the workers and equipment loading it, the workers would not have been allowed to work on the scaffold.
  4. If the roof in #4 had been inspected and holes properly guarded, the fall through the skylight would not have occurred.

None of the hazards in the examples given above would have caused an injury if someone had identified, evaluated, and controlled them.

2. None of the hazards on a construction worksite can cause an injury if they are first _____.

a. reported to OSHA for inspection
b. identified and noted on an inspection report
c. identified, evaluated, and corrected
d. evaluated by the worksite supervisor

Next Section

Analyzing Fall Hazards

guardrails
Example of a risk matrix.

After identifying an existing or potential fall hazard, it's important to analyze the hazard by looking at its unique characteristics. Two important fall-hazard characteristics to analyze to determine risk are probability and severity.

Determine Probability

The probability, or likelihood, that a hazard will cause a fall.

Click on the button to see three variables to analyze to determine probability.

  1. Distance of the fall. A person in free-fall will accelerate until he or she reaches a terminal velocity of about 120 mph.
  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. The 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.

Determine Severity

An important part of hazard analysis is to determine how severe an injury might be as a result exposure to a hazard. Estimating the severity of an injury after a fall is difficult because it is depends on many variables. A basic rule regarding the severity of an injury after a fall is that, "it's not the fall that gets you, it's that sudden deceleration on impact."

Click on the button to see four variables to analyze to determine severity.

  1. Distance of the fall. A person in free-fall will accelerate until he or she reaches a terminal velocity of about 120 mph.
  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. The 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.

3. Which two basic characteristics of a fall hazard do you analyze to determine risk?

a. The severity of injury and duration of exposure
b. The probability and severity of injury
c. The number of workers and probability
d. The orientation of the body and fall distance

Next Section

Evaluating Fall Hazards

Determine Fall Distances

Calculating Fall Distance

Part of the hazard analysis process is to determine fall distances from walking-working surfaces to lower levels so that the employer can provide appropriate fall protection equipment. Let's look at the various fall-distance rules.

Four-Foot Rule: OSHA general industry standard 1910.28(b), Walking-Working Surfaces, requires workers be protected from fall hazards on walking-working surfaces where they could fall four feet or more to a lower level.

When working less than 4 feet above dangerous equipment, guardrail systems, travel restraint systems, or equipment covers must be used. When working 4 feet or higher above dangerous equipment, guardrail systems, travel-restraint systems, fall-arrest systems, safety nets, or must be used.

Six-Foot Rule: OSHA's standard 1926.501(b) requires the use of fall protection when construction workers are working at heights of 6 feet or greater above a lower level. However, the rule does not apply to workers inspecting, investigating, or assessing workplace conditions prior to the actual start of work or after all construction work has been completed.

When working six feet or less over dangerous equipment, guardrail systems of equipment guards must be used. When working six feet or higher over dangerous equipment, workers must be protected using guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, or safety nets.

Click on the buttons to see examples of fall hazards from which employees must be protected by the four-foot and six-foot rules.

guardrails
The four-foot rule applies to general industry.
  • 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 four-foot rule does not apply:

  • to work on portable ladders;
  • when inspecting, investigating, or assessing work condition before or after work;
  • entertainment stages or rail-station perimeters;
  • powered platforms;
  • telecommunications work; and
  • electric power generation, transmission, and distribution.

A worker might need require fall protection according to the six-foot rule when working:

guardrails
The six-foot rule applies to construction.
  • on a ramp, runway, or another walkway;
  • at the edge of an excavation;
  • in a hoist area;
  • on low-slope and steep roofs;
  • on, at, above, or near wall openings;
  • on residential construction worksites;
  • on precast concrete erection;
  • on overhand bricklaying and related work;
  • on a walking or working surface with holes (including skylights) or unprotected sides or edges;
  • above a lower level where leading edges are under construction;
  • on the face of formwork and reinforcing steel, or
  • on all walking-working surfaces not otherwise addressed.

Examples of working over dangerous equipment include:

  • equipment with rotating shafts;
  • machinery with open drive belts, pulleys or gears;
  • or open vats of degreasing agents or acid.

Ten-Foot Rule: According to 1926.451(g)(1), fall protection on scaffolding is required when you are greater than 10 feet off the lower level.

Fifteen-Foot Rule: According to 1926.760, Steel Erection, each employee on a walking/working surface with an unprotected side or edge more than 15 feet above a lower level must be protected from fall hazards by guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, positioning device systems or fall restraint systems.

4. The "six-foot rule" for fall protection applies to _____.

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

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Controlling Exposure and Behaviors

photo
An effective HOC includes both hazard and behavioral controls.

It's important to understand that exposure to fall hazards can be eliminated, prevented, or controlled, especially when a combination of methods are used.

Controlling exposure to hazards in the workplace, no matter what the situation, is generally done using a strategy called the "Hierarchy of Controls" (HOC). We have developed a modified fall prevention HOC model that combines the recommendations in ANSI/ASSP Z359.2, Minimum Requirements for a Comprehensive Managed Fall Protection Program, ANSI/ASSP Z10, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems, and OSHA's Hierarchy of Controls.

Exposure Controls

Exposure controls focus on strategies and methods to prevent or control exposure to fall hazards. If used alone, exposure controls are not as reliable because workers don't know why they are important. Click on the button to see information on the methods used to control exposure.

  1. Elimination/Prevention: For example, you can eliminate exposure to a hazard by lowering the work surface to ground level, or move a process, sequence or procedure to a different location so that workers no longer need to approach a fall hazard. Elimination is most effective because if you can remove the hazard, you also eliminate the exposure.
  2. Passive fall protection: Barriers such as guardrails, covers over exposed floor openings, and safety nets are used to isolate or separate the fall hazard from the worker.
  3. Active fall protection: These controls actively prevent access to fall or, if a fall occurs, limit the distance of the fall.
    • Travel restraint systems: Positioning and restraint equipment such as full-body harnesses and lanyards tied to anchors of lifelines can keep the worker away from a ledge or other fall hazard.
    • Fall arrest systems: Fall protection equipment such as fall-arrest systems and safety nets are used to prevent injury should a fall occur.

Behavioral Controls

Behavioral controls focus on controlling worker behaviors to prevent falls. If used alone, behavioral controls are not as reliable as exposure controls. Click on the button to see information on the methods used to control behaviors.

  1. Warnings: Warnings are used to raise awareness of fall hazards. Warning tape and cones are common types of warning.
  2. Administrative controls: These methods do not focus on controlling exposure to hazards, but on controlling workers behaviors. Administrative controls are last on the hierarchy of controls because they rely on worker compliance for success. And as we know, any system that relies on human behavior is inherently unreliable.

5. Which of the following would totally eliminate the risk of a fall to a lower work surface?

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

Next Section

Exposure Controls

guardrails
To prevent falls, use guardrails like those shown above.

Elimination/Prevention

Elimination is more difficult but it is by definition the most effective. Complete elimination of a fall hazard would mean not putting any workers at heights. Remember, no hazard, no harm. You can also prevent exposure to fall hazards by designing the job using methods that reduce the probability or severity of a fall. The best time to design the prevention of fall hazards on the construction project is in the preplanning phase when it is less expensive to implement.

Passive Fall Protection

Passive control methods are considered a higher level of protection from falls than active control methods because, when installed, they do not rely on the actions of a worker to be successful.

Active Fall Protection

Active control methods are considered to be less effective because they rely on the worker to use equipment to be successful.

Click on the button to see examples of elimination, passive fall controls, and active fall controls to prevent a falls at work.

Elimination

  • assembling sections of a scaffold on the ground before being lifted into place by a crane;
  • using tools and devices with extended handles from ground-level to cut, grab, or move items at elevation; and
  • using long extension poles to spray paint or change ceiling light bulbs.

Prevention Through Design

  • building stairway systems to eliminate the need to climb ladders;
  • using articulating and scissor lifts to replace the need to use fall-arrest systems;
  • using equipment that reduces the probability of exposure to a fall hazard; and
  • moving a process, sequence or procedure to a different location so that workers no longer need to approach a fall hazard;

Guardrails: Guardrails are the most common fall protection system used to protect workers at openings and on platforms. Guardrails must be continuous, with no portion of the leading edge exposed, and meet the strength requirements. They should be removed only when materials are being on-loaded or off-loaded. Ensure that each top rail, or equivalent member of a guardrail system, can withstand a force of at least 200 pounds. Top rails must be between 39 and 45 inches in height. Midrails, screens, mesh, intermediate vertical members or panels must withstand a force of at least 150 pounds.

Hole Covers: Any hole opening that measures at least two inches or more in its least dimension in a floor, roof or walking surface must be covered. Covers should be able to support at least two times the weight that will cross over them.

Safety Net Systems: Safety nets can catch the worker after a fall. They are most often found under bridgework, steel erection, demolition and maintenance operations. They should be installed as close as possible under the walking/working surface, but never allow a fall of more than 30 feet.

Personal Fall Restraint Systems: This active fall system can be a full body harness or a body belt that's rigged to physically restrict the worker from reaching an area where a fall could occur. It's designed to hold the worker back, but it does not provide support if a fall occurs. Fall restraint systems are commonly used on leading edge work such as roofs, open-sided floors and work platforms.

Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS): A PFAS keeps the worker from hitting the ground or other obstructions below. The PFAS consists of a body harness, connecting device and anchorage. It must prevent the worker from free falling more than six feet. The arresting force on the worker must be limited to 1,800 pounds or less, and the anchorage point must be capable of supporting 5,000 pounds per person attached. When vertical lifelines are used, each worker must be attached to a separate lifeline.

6. Passive control methods are considered a higher level of protection from falls than active control methods because _____.

a. they are less expensive to use
b. they may be used multiple times
c. workers are required to use the equipment
d. they do not rely on the actions of workers

Next Section

Behavioral Controls

Copyright: benkrut / 123RF Stock Photo
Warnings and administrative controls work only as long as workers comply with them.

Warnings

Warnings are usually audible or visible devices that help to raise awareness of hazards. Signs, labels, posters, and lights are examples of warnings that alert workers about hazards. The effectiveness of warnings is highly dependent on the quality of training, legibility and visibility, and worker compliance. Warnings may become ineffective if, over time, workers ignore them.

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are changes made to the way employees work. In construction, administrative controls are the policies, programs, plans, processes, procedures, and practices aimed at reducing worker exposure to hazards that elimination, passive fall controls, and active fall controls fail to eliminate. Effective administrative controls have the potential to successfully eliminate the behaviors that result in over 90% of all workplace accidents!

It's always better to eliminate the hazard so that you don't have to rely on administrative controls because they are only effective when workers comply. It's important to understand that controls that rely on human behavior are inherently less reliable.

Click on the button to see examples of administrative controls including safe work practices that can help prevent accidents.

Administrative controls to help ensure safe behaviors include safety:

  • instruction, training, and practice to promote workers have adequate knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to work safely;
  • policies that promote decision-making at the supervisor and employee levels, (e.g., job scheduling to limit exposure);
  • processes that help to ensure complex operations are safe (e.g., chemical production preventive and corrective maintenance);
  • procedures that ensure that the steps in single operation are safe (e.g., performing lockout/tagout and housekeeping);
  • practices ensure behaviors in each step in a procedure are safe (e.g., inspecting PPE after use);
  • rules that ensure mandatory safety behaviors (e.g., requiring the use of PPE when handling hazardous chemicals); and
  • guidelines, to promote non-mandatory safety behaviors (e.g., submitting safety suggestions).

Safe work practices include:

  • removing tripping, blocking, and slipping hazards
  • removing accumulated toxic dust on surfaces
  • wetting down surfaces to keep toxic dust out of the air
  • using safe lifting techniques
  • maintaining equipment and tools in good repair
  • using personal protective equipment (PPE)

To make sure administrative controls are effective in the long term, they must be designed and used in conjunction with, and not as a substitute for, more effective or reliable hazard controls.

7. Administrative controls are not as effective as elimination, passive controls, or active controls because they _____.

a. can't be used as a basis for discipline
b. make the employer liable for all accidents
c. work only as long as workers comply
d. are expensive and not referenced often

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Scenario

Copyright: benkrut / 123RF Stock Photo
Always be aware of the hazards around you.

A project engineer was fatally injured by a fall 29 feet from a roof while measuring the roof for an insulation cost estimate. The victim fell over the edge of the root while walking backwards. A maintenance person from the building who had accompanied the victim and two co-workers to the roof immediately ran downstairs and called 911 from the office and proceeded to the victim to offer assistance. Emergency medical services arrived immediately. The victim was transported to a nearby local hospital and was pronounced dead on arrival.

Employers should:

  • employ alternative controls for fall hazards when personal fall-arrest systems are not required nor appropriate
  • develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive safety program that includes, but is not limited to, training all employees in fall hazard recognition

Building owners should:

  • consider the installation of guardrails at the perimeter of flat roofs wherever possible

8. When fall-arrest systems are not required nor appropriate, what should the employer do when employees are exposed to fall hazards?

a. Remind the employee to use common sense
b. Use alternative controls
c. Call OSHA to get permission
d. Tell the worker to be safe

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.

Videos

Videos

WXTV will set its sights on the number one cause of fatalities on the job site, falls, and what OSHA requirements you need to know to protect yourself. Tune in to get the goods on the gear to stay safe and alive.

This second video is a webinar produced by Hub International. It's rather long, but it has a wealth information on preventing and controlling hazards.

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