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Fall Protection

Learning Objectives

Identify the Focus Four Hazards.

  • Identify unsafe conditions or unsafe acts that pose fall hazards.
  • Identify the requirements for Fall Protection Systems.
  • Identify the effects of free-fall and sudden arrest of free-fall on the body.
  • Identify the requirements for equipment used in Work Positioning, Fall Restraint, and Fall Arrest systems.
  • Identify the requirements for proper use of Work Positioning, Fall Protection, Fall Restraint, and Fall Arrest systems.
  • Identify the action levels imposed by OSHA regarding fall hazards.

Available in English

30 minutes

The construction industry has an average of over 360 fatal falls per year—that’s about one death every day.

Labor Statistics, OSHA

It happens too frequently to ignore, even to seasoned professionals in the construction industry. Falls from scaffolding, ladders, beams, and residential frames carry the potential for fatal injury. Many falls are preventable if the right safety precautions are taken, so why are falls occurring with such frequency? Workers, usually for the sake of expediency, sometimes cut corners and work without fall protection equipment to accomplish little tasks here and there, removing the systems when they present an inconvenience, or dispensing with them altogether. And when that happens, risk is invited and bad accidents can happen.

Falls are one of the major sources of injury to the American workforce. Every year there are approximately 300,000 injuries from falls in industrial facilities and construction in the United States. 1,300 workers die in falls each year. Falls, along with electrical, caught-in, and struck-by hazards account for the majority of the injuries and fatalities in construction and are collectively known as the “Fatal Four” hazards.

Where employees are exposed to serious fall hazards, and protection by other means such as guard rails or nets are not used, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to establish a personal fall arrest program. These programs typically identify common hazards and offer solutions for mitigating them, usually by instructing the use of fall protection systems, outlining situations where fall arrest devices are appropriate for use. Bypassing personal fall arrest systems is a bad idea, regardless of how time consuming these systems may be to deploy.

Recognizing and correcting unsafe conditions results in more than creating a safer work environment. Keeping your jobsite free of fall hazards reduces the likelihood of receiving a citation when inspected by OSHA.

Common Construction Fall Hazards

  • Leading edges on roofs or levels of a constructed building or around open excavations;
  • Scaffold systems that lack proper guardrail protection;
  • Open holes in floors that are improperly guarded;
  • Accessing or climbing heavy equipment such as cranes to operate or perform maintenance.

For construction activities, where a fall from a height of 6 feet or more is present, guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, or some other fall protection device must be used. A fall hazard can include working near an open excavation, on top of a piece of heavy equipment, a leading edge of a building, or an entrance into a vertical confined space shaft.  

Fall protection is not required for self-supporting step ladders or extension ladders. For permanently fixed ladders, a cage or the use of a self-retracting lifeline is required for heights greater than 24 feet.

Barriers are used to minimize employee exposure to fall hazards. Guardrail systems may be used extensively throughout the work site. Permanent guardrails can be placed on stairways, landings, work platforms, and equipment access platforms. Temporary guardrails are used on scaffolds and at construction sites, excavation sites, and other areas where a temporary fall hazard exists.

Never use a guardrail as an anchorage point for fall protection unless it has been approved by a qualified individual such as an engineer. 

Temporary Warning Lines

  • Used at construction sites and excavation sites when exposure to fall hazards will be for a short time;
  • Consist of ropes, wires, or chains, and supporting stanchions;
  • Must be flagged at least every six feet with high-visibility material;
  • No lower than 34 inches and no higher than 39 inches from the walking/working surface;
  • Signage may be posted indicating controlled access during construction;
  • No one is allowed in the area between a warning line and the fall hazard unless specifically authorized.

Warning Monitors

  • Competent personnel assigned to keep others away from a fall hazard;
  • Must not have any other duties;
  • Should only be utilized when all other means of fall protection are not possible;
  • Circumstances for using warning monitors must be specifically described in your company’s safety.

Guardrail systems include a top rail, mid rail, and toeboards. The top rail should be 42 inches above the standing surface. The height can vary from 39 to 45 inches if needed. The top rail must be capable of supporting 200 pounds force downward or outward. In almost all instances common commercial grade 2X4 lumber or better will meet this requirement.

The mid rail should be located midway between the standing surface and the top rail. It must be capable of supporting 150 pounds force downward or outward.

Toeboards must be placed along the edge of the walking/working surface and be long enough to protect people below. Toeboards must be capable of supporting at least 50 pounds of pressure downward or outward. Toeboards must be a minimum of 3 ½ inches high from their top edge to the level of the walking/working surface. No more than a ¼ inch gap is allowed between the bottom of the toe board and the working surface.

Where tools, equipment, or materials are piled higher than the top edge of a toeboard, paneling, screening or safety nets must be used from the walking/working surface or toeboard to the top of a guardrail system's top rail or mid rail.

Course Outline
  • Introduction
  • Hazard Recognition
  • Fall Protection Systems
  • Fall Dynamics
  • Equipment/Accessories
  • Fall Restraint/Arrest Systems
  • OSHA
  • OSHA Standards, Title 29 CFR, Part 1926.503
  • OSHA Standards, Title 29 CFR, Part 1910 Subpart D, Section 1910.23
  • 29 CFR 1910.22