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Safety in the Workplace: Fall Hazards

According to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), there are four construction site hazards that caused almost 60 percent of all workplace fatalities in 2009.  The “fatal four” include falls, caught in or between, struck by, and electrocution.  This article is the first in a series to discuss what every construction site worker should know about these work site hazards, and focuses on falls.  In 2009, falls accounted for 34 percent of fatal injuries on construction sites.  This article will cover four topics regarding falls:

  • What is a fall hazard?;
  • What are the types of fall hazards that are commonly seen in construction?;
  • How can a worker protect themselves from fall hazards?; and
  • What are employers required to do to protect their workers from falling?

What is a Fall Hazard?

Fall hazards are anything at the worksite that could cause one to lose their balance or bodily support which then results in a fall.  It is important to remember that any working surface or walking surface can present a potential fall hazard.  There are different types of falls that can occur on a construction site.  These can include falls through an existing floor opening or roof opening; falls through a floor or roof surface when the floor or roof collapses; falls from elevation or ground level down to lower levels; jumps from equipment; and jumps from structures.

In reviewing data between 1992 and 2005, falls from roofs were responsible for about 1/3rd of all fatal falls.  18 percent of all fatal falls were from falls off scaffolding or staging.  16 percent of fall fatalities were from ladders.  Eight percent of the construction site fall fatalities were from either structural steel or girders.  The remaining 25 percent of the fatal falls include falls from nonmoving vehicles, falls from aerial lifts, and falls through existing floor openings.

What are the Major Types of Fall Hazards in Construction?

The major types of fall hazards in construction include unsafe portable ladders, improper scaffold construction, and unprotected roof edges, roof/floor openings, structural steel and leading edges.


Unsafe Portable Ladders

Ladder falls result in over 100 fatalities each year.  Factors that contribute to worker falls from ladders include “ladder slip” where either the top or the bottom of the ladder slips from its supports.  It can also include workers slipping on rungs of the ladder, workers overreaching beyond the area intended to be accessed by the ladder, defective equipment, and using the wrong ladder for the task.  Common OSHA ladder violations include a failure to use a portable ladder that extends a full three feet above the landing, improper use of the top of stepladders, and no training for the workers.


Improper Scaffold Construction

When workers are working on platforms 10 feet or higher, they must have fall protection.  This could include either guardrails or personal fall arrest systems.  Most scaffold injuries are attributable to factors such as the lack of guardrails, the lack of other fall protection, and the support or planking of the scaffold giving way.  OSHA’s most commonly cited scaffold violations include the use of aerial lifts without body belts and lanyards, inadequate platform construction, the lack of fall protection, and a failure to properly train workers.


Unprotected Roof Edges, Roof/Floor Openings, Structural Steel and Leading Edges

Unprotected edges and sides of roofing is the most commonly cited serious OSHA violation.  Similarly, falls to lower levels from an improperly covered or protected floor hole or opening are one of the most commonly cited OSHA violations.  Floor covering should be sturdy enough to hold double the weight of the workers and equipment that will be traveling over the surface.

Ironworkers risk of work related death is 10 times higher than the average construction fatality rate.

The most common serious OSHA violations in steel erection are attributable to a lack of adequate fall protection, and a lack of fall hazard training.

How Can a Worker Protect Themselves from Fall Hazards?

Workers can protect themselves from falls by using the fall protection equipment.  Guard rails are a fall prevention system that should be in place.  Safety net systems should be as close as practicable below the working surface, but within 30 feet at the outside.  A personal fall arrest system, which includes connectors, anchorage, and a full body harness working together can also be used.  Fall prevention systems, such as guard rails, are preferred over fall protection systems.

Training is critical to fall prevention.  The training should include training workers on how to identify hazards and the procedures followed in order to minimize the fall hazard.  Specialized training on the proper use of ladders and scaffolds should separately be provided.

What are Employers Required to do to Protect Their Workers from Falling?

Employers are expected to provide fall protection, ensure that scaffolds are constructed properly, ensure ladders are in good working condition and are used in a safe manner, conduct onsite maintenance of equipment, and provide the proper training to their employees.  In protecting employees, employers should do the following:

  • Create a written fall protection plan;
  • Identify fall hazards both prior to the start of each project, and during each daily walk-around;
  • Examine tasks to determine if isolating the task, changing the task, or rescheduling the task will eliminate the need for fall protection;
  • Ensure that fall protection is used properly;
  • Inspect fall protection equipment to ensure that it is in good working condition;
  • Ensure that the fall protection equipment is appropriate for the task at hand;
  • Provide fall prevention training to employees on a regular basis;
  • Train workers on identified specific fall hazards;
  • Train workers on the required personal protective equipment associated with identified fall hazards;
  • Conduct regular and frequent inspections of the fall protection equipment, consistent with the manufacturer’s requirements, as well as OSHA’s requirements; and
  • Emphasize fall hazards that are unique to a given construction site.

If You Have Been Injured in a Fall

If you have been injured in a construction site fall, or if you have lost a loved one to a construction site fall, you may be entitled to compensation.  Contact the experienced Atlanta worker injury lawyers at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers to discuss the facts of your case at no cost to you.

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Seth Bader
(678) 562-5595