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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.

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1. At what height is fall protection generally required when working above dangerous equipment?

a. Any height
b. 4 feet
c. 6 feet
d. 10 feet

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Statistics

Focus Four Fall Hazards Statistics

In the private sector industry, over 20% of all fatalities were in construction. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) more than half of all work-related falls nationally are due to falls in construction. Over half of all fatal construction falls occur in small construction companies with fewer than 10 employees.

The leading causes of private sector worker deaths in the construction industry were falls, followed by struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between. These "Fatal Four" were responsible for about 60% of all construction worker deaths in 2017, BLS reports. Eliminating the Fatal Four would save 582 workers' lives in America every year.

According to The Construction Chart Book (CPWR), most fatalities and nonfatal injuries due to falls are occur in three construction occupations: power-line installers, roofers, and ironworkers. Most fatalities from falls are caused by fall off roofs, ladders, and scaffolds.

Many fall hazards could be prevented by designing the hazards out. for more information and ideas, be sure to bookmark the Prevention Through Design website.

Practice Identifying Hazards

Try to identify the hazards present in each of the pictures below. Then click on the links below to open the examples. Click on each picture to see if you correctly identified the hazards.

2. Over half of all fatal construction falls are experienced by construction companies with _____ employees.

a. 10 or more employees
b. fewer than 10 employees
c. at least 15 employees
d. 10-20 employees

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Edges and Openings

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.

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.

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.

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.

3. In steel erection, workers on walking/working surfaces with unprotected sides or edges _____ must be protected from falling under most circumstances.

a. at least 6 feet high
b. 10 feet or higher
c. above 15 feet
d. between 10 and 30 feet

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Edges and Openings (Continued)

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. Click on the button below to see the graphic of this accident.

    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. Click on the button below to see the graphic of this accident.

    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.

Fall from tilt-up concrete wall

4. Hole covers must meet all of the following requirements EXCEPT _____.

a. being secured when installed to prevent displacement
b. having color codes or warning words
c. being nailed to secure the floor hole being covered
d. being able to support twice the weight imposed

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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 more than 10 feet above a lower level.

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 links below to open the examples. Click on each picture to see if you correctly identified the hazards.

5. Guardrails or personal fall arrest systems are required for workers on scaffold platforms _____.

a. at or above 4 feet
b. 6 feet or higher
c. above 10 feet
d. 30 feet feet or higher

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Improper Scaffold Construction (Continued...)

As you learned earlier, scaffold workers attribute most accidents to weak or defective planking and platforms, a lack of guardrails, and a lack of fall arrest systems. Here are more examples of what can happen when these safety precautions are not taken.

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.

6. The majority of the workers injured in scaffold accidents attribute the accident to each of the following factors EXCEPT _____.

a. failure to use fall arrest systems
b. competent person observers not present
c. missing or defective guardrails
d. planking or support giving way

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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. Common factors that contribute to falls from ladders include:

  • wrong size ladder,
  • ladder slip (top or bottom),
  • overreaching,
  • failure to maintain three-points of contact
  • slipping on rungs/steps,
  • defective equipment,
  • placing a ladder on soft or uneven ground, and
  • improper ladder selection for a given task.

Practice Identifying Hazards

Try to identify the hazards present in each of the pictures below. Then click on the links below to open the examples. Click on each picture to see if you correctly identified the hazards.

7. According to the BLS, factors that contribute to falls from ladders include each of the following EXCEPT _____.

a. overreaching
b. slipping on rungs
c. improper ladder angle
d. ladder slip

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Unsafe Portable Ladders (Continued...)

Fall from tilt-up concrete wall

Every year OSHA cites employers for violations of ladder safety. 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.

Examples

Examples of accidents that could have been prevented had the employer followed safe practices.

  • 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 the wrong size for the job as it was not tall enough for the task. The ladder needs to extend at least three feet (approximately 2 - 3 rungs) 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. the worker should receive training regarding how to use the ladder safely.

8. Which of the following is NOT a frequently-cited OSHA violation related to ladders?

a. failure to use three points of contact while climbing
b. failure of the ladder to extend 3 feet above the landing
c. no employee training
d. improper use of the top of stepladders

Check your Work

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. Any questions you missed will be listed below. To correct your answers, go back to the question, change your answer, and come back to this section and click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button again.

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