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OSHA 1926.501 – Duty to Have Fall Protection

“Complying with OSHA Fall Protection 1926.501 doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Gorbel has trained experts to help you develop a comprehensive fall protection plan. Gorbel and your local dealer can help you define your fall protection program, identify fall hazards and determine whether eliminating, preventing or controlling falls is your best solution. After installing a solution, your dealer can train your employees, inspect and maintain all fall arrest equipment and continuously audit the program for compliance.” Gorbel, 800-821-0086,

Why is fall protection important?

Falls are among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. Slips, trips and falls are the most frequent cause of fatalities in the construction industry, representing 37.9% of all construction fatalities (418 of 1,102) in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics[1]. However, falls that claim lives and result in injuries and lost time occur in a range of industries.

Most cited industries

From October 2020 through September 2021, the following industries were cited most often for violations of 1926.501:

  • Construction
  • Wholesale trade
  • Manufacturing
  • Administrative & Support and Waste Management & Remediation Services
  • Utilities
  • Retail trade
  • Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services
  • Information
  • Arts, Entertainment and Recreation
  • Real Estate and Rental & Leasing

Summary of the standard

Employers must set up the work place to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated work stations or into holes in the floor and walls. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry and eight feet in longshoring operations. In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.

To prevent employees from being injured from falls, employers must:

  • Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk (using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover).
  • Provide a guard rail and toe-board around every elevated open sided platform, floor or runway.
  • Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto dangerous machines or equipment (such as a vat of acid or a conveyor belt) employers must provide guardrails and toe-boards to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
  • Other means of fall protection that may be required on certain jobs include safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings and hand rails.

Major provisions of 1926.501

Employers are required to provide fall protection in a variety of work situations and conditions, including:

Unprotected sides and edges. Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems or personal fall arrest systems.

Leading edges. Each employee who is constructing a leading edge 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above lower levels shall be protected from falling by guardrail systems, safety net systems or personal fall arrest systems.

Walking-working surfaces. Each employee on a walking-working surface 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level where leading edges are under construction, but who is not engaged in the leading-edge work, shall be protected from falling by a guardrail system, safety net system or personal fall arrest system. If a guardrail system is chosen to provide the fall protection, and a controlled access zone has already been established for leading edge work, the control line may be used in lieu of a guardrail along the edge that parallels the leading edge.

Hoist areas. Each employee in a hoist area shall be protected from falling 6 feet (1.8 m) or more to lower levels by guardrail systems or personal fall arrest systems. If guardrail systems, [or chain, gate or guardrail] or portions thereof, are removed to facilitate the hoisting operation (e.g., during landing of materials), and an employee must lean through the access opening or out over the edge of the access opening (to receive or guide equipment and materials, for example), that employee shall be protected from fall hazards by a personal fall arrest system.

Holes. Each employee on walking/working surfaces shall be protected from falling through holes (including skylights) more than 6 feet (1.8 m) above lower levels, by personal fall arrest systems, covers or guardrail systems erected around such holes.

Formwork and reinforcing steel. Each employee on the face of formwork or reinforcing steel shall be protected from falling 6 feet (1.8 m) or more to lower levels by personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems or positioning device systems.

There are additional provisions for preventing falls through skylights; from ramps, runways and other walkways and off overhead platforms, elevated work stations or into holes in the floor and walls.

Fall Prevention Campaign for Construction Industry

OSHA, in partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) – Construction Sector on the Fall Prevention Campaign have developed a plan to raise awareness among workers and employers about common fall hazards in construction, and how falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs can be prevented. It is a three-pronged approach:

  1. PLAN ahead to get the job done safely

When working from heights, employers must plan projects to ensure that the job is done safely. Begin by deciding how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved and what safety equipment may be needed to complete each task.

  1. PROVIDE the right equipment

Workers who are six feet or more above lower levels are at risk for serious injury or death if they should fall. To protect these workers, employers must provide fall protection and the right equipment for the job, including the right kinds of ladders, scaffolds and safety gear. Use the right ladder or scaffold to get the job done safely. For roof work, if workers use personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), provide a harness for each worker who needs to tie off to the anchor. Make sure the PFAS fits, and regularly inspect it for safe use.

  1. TRAIN everyone to use the equipment safely

Every worker should be trained to recognize hazards and use safety equipment properly – in language they understand.

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