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Course 806: Focus Four - Fall Hazards

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

What is a Fall Hazard?

Man Inspecting Logs

Definition

Fall hazards are present at most worksites, and many workers are exposed to these hazards on a daily basis. A fall hazard is anything at your worksite that could cause you to lose your balance or lose bodily support and result in a fall. Any walking or working surface can be a potential fall hazard.

Any time you are working at a height of four feet or more, you are at risk. OSHA generally requires fall protection be provided at four feet in general industry, five feet in maritime and six feet in construction. However, regardless of the fall distance, fall protection must be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery. The importance of fall protection cannot be stressed enough.

Falls from heights are the leading cause of fatalities in construction, while falls on the same level (slips and trips) are one of the leading causes of injuries.

Examples

Fall hazard incidents are injuries produced by impact between the injured person and the source of injury when the motion producing contact was generated by gravity.

Fall hazards in construction cause accidents such as the following:

  1. A makeshift scaffold collapsed under the weight of four workers and their equipment, seriously injuring all four.
  2. A worker carrying a sheet of plywood on a flat roof stepped into a skylight opening and fell to the level below.
  3. A roofer, while attempting to remove a roof opening cover, fell approximately 21 feet to the concrete floor below and was killed.
  4. A construction worker was working on a carpenters' wall bracket scaffold without fall protection. The worker fell 19 feet to the ground, sustained blunt trauma to the head and later died.

Statistics

Focus Four Fall Hazards Statistics

BLS found the leading causes of worker deaths in the construction industry were: falls, struck-by object, caught-in or -between, and electrocution. These "Fatal [Focus] Four" were responsible for nearly two out of three (63%) construction worker deaths in 2013, BLS reports. In 2013, falls accounted for more than one-third of fatal occupational injuries in construction (37%). Out of all the fatal falls in private industry in 2013, 42% of them involved construction workers.

Data from a long-term study indicates the types of falls that are causing worker deaths. In the period 1992-2005, about one-third of the fatal falls in construction were from roofs, 18% were from scaffolding or staging, 16% were from ladders, and 8% were from girders or structural steel. The other 25% of fatal falls includes falls through existing floor openings, from nonmoving vehicles, from aerial lifts, etc.

Occupational fatalities caused by falls are a serious concern. This lesson will help you identify fall hazards at construction worksites so you can better protect yourself.

Many fall hazards could be prevented by designing the hazards out. See: http://www.designforconstructionsafety.org

Common Types of Fall Hazards in Construction

Some of the working conditions that contribute to fall hazards include: unprotected edges of elevated work surfaces, including roofs; scaffolds, and ladders; unprotected roof edges; roof/floor openings; and structural steel & leading edges.

Edges and Openings

Major hazards:

Almost all sites have unprotected sides and edges, wall openings, or floor holes at some point during construction. If these sides and openings are not protected at your site, injuries from falls or falling objects may result, ranging from sprains and concussions to death.

Falls to a lower level are a major cause of fatalities in construction. Improperly covered or protected floor holes and openings are a common fall hazard. It's easy to step into a hole or opening when carrying something that blocks one’s forward view.

Roofing falls are the leading cause of roofing injuries and fatalities. Roofing, siding and sheet metal work have the highest rate of occupational injuries and illnesses for a non-manufacturing industry. One of the most frequently cited serious OSHA violations involving roofing and fall protection is unprotected sides and edges.

Workers involved in steel erection are exposed to fall hazards. According to The Construction Chart Book (CPWR, December, 2007), more ironworkers are killed from falls than workers in any other construction occupation. The rate of work-related deaths among ironworkers is 10 times higher than the construction average. The most frequently cited serious OSHA violations involving steel erection are fall protection, fall hazard training and fall protection for connectors.

In steel erection, workers on walking/working surfaces with unprotected sides or edges above 15 feet must be protected (There are some exceptions for connectors and workers working in controlled decking zones for heights between 15 and 30 feet.

Practice Identifying Hazards

Try to identify the hazards present in each of the pictures below. Then click on the image to see if you correctly identified the hazards.

Edges and Openings (Continued...)

Fall from tilt-up concrete wall

Let’s review some examples of actual accidents:

  • An ironworker was standing on a tilt-up concrete wall, throwing out bridging. He was wearing a harness and lanyard but was not tied-off. He fell 30 feet to the ground and sustained crushing injuries to his spine, resulting in permanent paralysis below the chest.

    Recommendations: The accident could have been prevented if the ironworker had been properly tied off.
Fall from tilt-up concrete wall
  • A worker was working on a second-story roof, which was stripped off of the original roofing clay tile, felt paper and existing skylights. He was preparing the roof for installation of new materials. While working, he stepped through the removed skylight opening, which was covered only with felt paper. He fell approximately 24 feet to a ceramic tile covered concrete floor and was hospitalized with a head fracture.

    Recommendations: Holes, including skylights, must have covers that are capable of supporting, without failure, at least twice the weight of employees, equipment, and materials that may be imposed on the cover at any one time.

Improper Scaffold Construction

Major hazards:

Working with heavy equipment and building materials on the limited space of a scaffold is difficult. Without fall protection or safe access, it becomes hazardous. Falls from improperly constructed scaffolds can result in injuries ranging from sprains to death. Guardrails or personal fall arrest systems for fall prevention/protection are required for workers on platforms 10 feet or higher.

The majority of the workers injured in scaffold accidents attribute the accident to factors like the planking or support giving way, or to lack of guardrails or other fall protection. OSHA’s most frequently cited serious scaffold violations include lack of fall protection; scaffold access; use of aerial lifts without body belts and lanyards, platform construction and no worker training.

Practice Identifying Hazards

Try to identify the hazards present in each of the pictures below. Then click on the image to see if you correctly identified the hazards.

Improper Scaffold Construction (Continued...)

Let’s review some examples of potential accidents:

Fall from tilt-up concrete wall
  • A construction worker was working on a carpenters' wall bracket scaffold without fall protection. The worker fell 19 feet to the ground, sustained blunt trauma to the head, and later died.

    Recommendations: The construction worker should have either been wearing a personal fall arrest system or guardrails should have been attached to the scaffolding. Was the scaffolding assembled properly and inspected by a competent person?
  • A worker preparing masonry fascia for removal from a building fell from the third level of a tubular welded-frame scaffold. No guarding system was provided for the scaffold. Further, the platform was coated with ice, creating a slippery condition.

    Recommendations: Again, either guardrails should have been attached to the scaffolding or the worker should have used a personal fall arrest system. Ice must always be cleared away from scaffolding to prevent slippery conditions.

Unsafe Portable Ladders

Fall from tilt-up concrete wall
Do you think they’re using the ladders properly?

Major Hazards:

If a portable ladder is not safely positioned each time you use it, you could fall from the ladder. While you are on a ladder, it may move and slip from its supports. You can also lose your balance while getting on or off an unsteady ladder. Falls from ladders can cause injuries, ranging from sprains to death.

BLS data show that falls from ladders account for more than 100 fatalities each year. Factors that contribute to falls from ladders are ladder slip (top or bottom), overreaching, slipping on rungs/steps, defective equipment, and improper ladder selection for a given task. Frequently cited OSHA ladder violations include:

  • not having a portable ladder extend 3 feet above the landing,
  • no worker training, and
  • improper use of the top of stepladders.

Practice Identifying Hazards

Try to identify the hazards present in each of the pictures below. Then click on the image to see if you correctly identified the hazards.

Unsafe Portable Ladders (Continued...)

Fall from tilt-up concrete wall

Let’s review some examples of potential accidents:

  • A worker was climbing a 10-foot ladder to access a landing, which was 9 feet above the adjacent floor. The ladder slid down, and the worker fell to the floor, sustaining fatal injuries. Although the ladder had slip-resistant feet, it was not secured.

    Recommendations: The ladder was not tall enough for the task. The ladder needs to extend at least three feet above the landing and have a 4 to 1 angle. The ladder should have been secured.
  • A worker fell approximately 11 feet from an unsecured 24-foot portable extension ladder, which he had leaned against the fascia board above the garage of a house under construction. The worker sustained left leg fracture injuries and was hospitalized.

    Recommendations: The ladder needed to be secured. Did the worker receive training regarding how to use the ladder safely?

Instructions

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. You must answer all of the questions before submitting the quiz.

You can take the quiz two ways: FLASH or HTML. To take the FLASH quiz click on the button below.

Begin Quiz

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Good luck!

1. Which factor contributes to falls from ladders?

2. One of the factors that many workers injured in scaffold accidents attribute their accident to is _____.

3. One of the most frequently cited serious OSHA violations involving roofing and fall protection is _____.

4. A fall hazard is _____.

5. Factors such as _____ are a common fall hazard.


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