A Site-Specific Program to Prevent Falls

By: Paul Satti, Contributor

Falls from heights continue to be the leading cause of death in the construction industry, accounting for approximately one-third of reported fatalities. This includes falls from roofs, wall openings, scaffolds and other elevated work surfaces. A site-specific fall management program is essential to reducing, and eliminating, the number of these tragic incidents.

A site-specific fall management program consists of four elements:

1. Management Commitment & Employee Involvement

Falls are not only the leading cause of death, but also the most frequently cited OSHA violation. A commitment to workplace safety begins with upper-level management. Preventing falls should be an integral part of every business decision, from cost estimation to daily execution to project completion. Supervisors must have knowledge of the federal rules and regulations governing worker protection. They must also reward employees and jobsite personnel who take active steps to prevent falls. In return, workers must understand the value that business managers place on fall safety measures.

Working at heights is a significant risk that, if not properly planned for, will result in unsafe conditions and behaviors. Employers have the responsibility to develop a safety program that identifies fall hazards and assigns competent persons to conduct inspections of construction sites. These competent persons must have knowledge of unsafe conditions, as well as applicable safety standards. The Code of Federal Regulations establishes the duty to have fall protection for workers (29 CFR 1926.501) and stipulates fall protection systems and practices (29 CFR 1926.502) to be employed in the design, construction and use guardrails, hole covers, safety nets, warning lines and personal fall arrest systems.

Compliance with government regulations, by itself, is insufficient. The American Society of Safety Professionals produces a catalog of consensus standards that also helps employers plan effective fall prevention strategies. This provides recommendations and best practices for the use and inspection of protection systems and equipment (i.e., harnesses, lanyards, SRLs, anchor points) that ensure the highest level of safety.

2. Work-Site Analysis

An efficient site-specific program begins with an emphasis on employee safety. This requires a thorough analysis of the tasks to be accomplished on site, the surrounding environment, and the safety tools necessary. This assessment must be completed before the work begins. It should result in a comprehensive safety plan that accounts for fall hazards and implements strategies to prevent any occurrence. Documentation and communication of the plan throughout the workforce is critical to gaining buy-in from those who are directly impacted.

3. Hazard Prevention & Controls

Chicagoland Construction Safety Council support of the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction.

Awareness and anticipation of a worksite injury go a long way toward preventing it from ever happening. Proper prevention is a three-phase approach that not only provides redundancy, but also takes into consideration this hierarchy of controls:

  • Engineering Controls – equipment or technology to reduce the risk of falls, such as guardrails, nets, hole covers, scaffolds and aerial lifts.
  • Administrative Controls – preventative measures taken to reduce the likelihood of a fall, such as restricting access to work areas, limiting occupation to qualified workers and using safety monitors, warning lines and horns.
  • Personal Fall Arrest Systems – PPE devices worn by employees, including full-body harnesses that utilize anchor points and lanyards, designed to protect, not prevent, a fall from height.

4. Safety Training

Active and frequent participation in hazard awareness training represents an everlasting commitment to safety. It keeps all company current in their knowledge of the rules related to working at heights. Furthermore, it empowers individuals to recognize jobsite risks and take a proactive response – before it’s too late. The National Safety Education Center (www.nsec.niu.edu) is one of 26 OSHA-authorized training centers that offers educational programs to prevent falls and save lives. Instruction is also available throughout the national network of OSHA Training Institute Education Centers (www.osha.gov/training).

In the end, safety is a shared responsibility of employers and employees. It requires attitudes and behaviors that must be learned and reinforced daily. The consequences of non-compliance, especially when working at heights, are tragic for workers, co-workers, family members and many others. For these reasons, the construction industry dedicates itself to a National Safety Stand-Down in May (www.osha.gov/stop-falls-stand-down) as an annual reminder of the importance of a site-specific fall management safety program. WMHS

Paul A. Satti, M.S., is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Certified Electrical Safety Compliance Professional (CESCP). He is Technical Director for the Chicagoland Construction Safety Council (www.buildsafe.org) and Instructor for the National Safety Education Center (www.niu.edu/nsec) – one of 26 OSHA-authorized Education Centers nationwide.

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