OSHA Fall Protection

Stephanie McCauley

OSHA Fall Protection

OSHA Fall Protection

Welcome to Safe Friday, since June is National Safety Month, this week we’re going to cover the ins and outs of OSHA fall protection. Whether you’re an experienced professional, or new on the job, today we’re going to offer something for everyone!

According to OSHA, falls accounted for 38.7% (384 out of 991) of construction related deaths in 2016 and was the #1 most frequently cited OSHA violation in 2017. [1]

Most injuries on the jobsite happen because people aren’t using safe work practices. Poor training, carelessness, inattention, not implementing the necessary safeguards and not wearing the right PPE are the primary causes of on-the-job accidents. When it comes to protecting yourself against falling, actions speak louder than words! When everyone recognizes and corrects hazards, accidents are prevented, illnesses and injuries are avoided, and lives saved.

Why We Need OSHA Fall Protection

We’re all convinced that we won’t fall, until we hit the ground. Furthermore, we need protection from falling because we don’t have perfect balance and because our bodies injure easily. We may think that our reflexes will protect us and that we’ll have time to regain our balance when we are about to fall, but split-second reflexes don’t prevent most falls. We are falling before we know it, and we don’t have to fall far to get hurt.

Falls Without Protection

How do most workers fall? Falls from ladders, roofs, and scaffolds account for more than half of all disabling falls. These falls are caused by loss of balance due to slipping, tripping and shifting or unstable work platforms.

The leading causes of falls include following from:

  • Ladders
  • Roofs
  • Scaffolds
  • Docks
  • Down Stairs
  • Girders
  • Stacked Material

Protect yourself by:

  • Identifying the hazards that can cause falls, and eliminating them
  • Using the right fall protection equipment to prevent falls or protect you if you do fall
  • Understanding how to recognize hazards that cause falls
  • There are three strategies that you can use to protect yourself against falls:
  • Eliminate hazards that cause falls
  • Prevent falls from occurring
  • Control falls so you’re not injured

Eliminate hazards: When you eliminate a fall hazard, you ensure that it won’t cause a fall; this is the most effective fall-protection strategy. You can eliminate fall hazards by:

  • Installing permanent stairs and guardrails early in projects so you don’t need to use ladders
  • Using tool extensions so you can work from the ground
  • Installing guardrails and anchorages on framework and structural steel beams on the ground before lifting them into place

Prevent falls from occurring: If you can’t eliminate the hazard, you can still prevent the fall from happening by using parapet walls, covers, guardrails, handrails, perimeter cables and personal-fall-restraint systems.

Control the fall to avoid injury: Controlling a fall is the least effective fall-prevention strategy because it doesn’t eliminate the hazard and doesn’t prevent a fall from happening. However, this may be the best approach when the other strategies aren’t feasible. Fall control systems include personal-fall-arrest systems, positioning-device systems, and safety-net systems.

As shown, we need more than self-confidence to protect us from falls. The best examples of protection include substituting safe work practices for risky ones, knowing how to work safely, and following safe work practices. Safeguard against fall-related injuries by always using the right fall-protection. When it comes to fall-protection, actions speak louder than words.

Fall Protection Procedures

Falling from heights is the leading cause of injuries and deaths in the construction industry. Fall Protection requirements are determined by the type of work you’re doing and can include barriers, guardrails, harnesses, belts, lanyards, anchorages, and assorted deceleration devices. Let’s look at some of the fall protection guidelines you need to know.

Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS) connections must be forged formed steel or equivalent material with a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 lbs.

  • Always inspect your PFA before each use and after any fall for wear, damage, deterioration or defects
  • Body belts can’t be used as part of a personal fall arrest system
  • Lanyards, lifelines, webbing and strength components must be made of synthetic fiber and have a minimum breaking strength of 5000 lbs.
  • Anchorages used for attaching PFAS must be able to support at least 5000 lbs. per person attached
  • When stopping a fall, PFAS can’t apply more than 1,800 lbs. of arresting force to your body, be rigged so that you can’t free fall more than 6 ft., contact any lower level and bring an employee to a complete stop

Positioning Device Systems (PDS) can use body belts and must be rigged so that you can’t fall more than 2 ft. Inspect your PDS before each use and remove any defective components from use. PDS anchorage point must support at least 3000 lbs.

Guard Rail Systems need the following:

  • The top rail must be between 39 and 45 inches above the working/walking level
  • Mid-rails, screens, mesh, or intermediate structural members must be installed between the top edge of the guardrail and the floor if there’s no wall that’s at least 21 inches high
  • Mid-rails must be halfway between the top rail and floor
  • Screens and mesh must cover the entire opening between the top rail and floor
  • Intermediate members must be no more than 19 inches apart
  • Guardrail system surfaces must be smooth to prevent puncture or laceration injuries and the snagging of clothes
  • When guard rails are used around a hole, they must be placed on all unprotected sides of the hole and can’t have more than 2 removable sides for passing material
  • Guardrail systems used on ramps and runways must be installed along each unprotected side

Safety Net Systems need the following:

  • Safety nets will be installed as close as possible under a walking/working surface, and never more than 30 ft below the surface. When used on bridges, the area between the walking/working surface and net must be unobstructed
  • Nets must have at least 42 inches of clearance under them to prevent contact with lower structures
  • Safety nets and installations must be drop tested after installation, before being used as a fall protection system, whenever relocated, repaired, or at 6-month intervals if left in place
  • Safety nets must be inspected at least once a week for wear, damage, and other deterioration
  • Materials, scraps, equipment and tools that fall into the safety net must be removed as soon as possible
  • Safety nets must have a border rope or webbing with a minimum 5000 lbs. breaking strength
  • Connections between nets must be at least as strong as the net and not more than 6 inches apart

When working at heights, protect yourself against falls by using the appropriate Fall Protection equipment. Make sure that a proper guardrail system is in place. Never latch your lanyard to railings, always clip your lifeline onto the proper anchoring system.

Focus Four: Falls 

OSHA has developed the Construction Focus Four Module to help workers understand common hazards. This is part of the training required in 10- and 30-hour OSHA Construction Outreach Training Program classes.

A fall hazard is classified as anything in the workplace that could cause a loss of balance or bodily support and result in a fall. Identifying fall hazards and addressing them with proper safety equipment, training and standards will drastically reduce the potential of one of the most common workplace injuries. Frequent types of fall hazards are: improperly-constructed scaffolding, unstable surfaces, and unsafe portable ladders.


Scaffolding creates an elevated work space with varying levels of height, all of which are dangerous in the event of a fall. An improperly-constructed scaffold opens the door to hazards such as lack of access, open and unprotected ledges, and unsafe planking.

Begin to avoid scaffolding-related injuries by ensuring that construction and positioning are done correctly and meticulously. Allow for safe and unrestricted access. Protect and remain mindful of open ledges. Use fall-protection equipment such as body belts and lanyards. Check that wooden planking is without deterioration and reduced integrity.


Roofs, structural steel, and floors with sub-level space are examples of surfaces that are littered with fall hazards. Falls to a lower level are one of the most frequent kinds of work-related injuries that result in serious harm or fatality. Unsafe ledges, absence of proper equipment, and unprotected/unmarked holes and skylights are leading contributors.

As with scaffolding, take care with ledges that are open to lower levels. If you’re working near these edges, wear equipment that will anchor you to your station. Open holes and skylights are hazardous if they aren’t made clear and protected. Label openings that you can’t cover and be aware of hazards if you’re carrying large materials that block your forward view.

Portable Ladders

Falls from ladders account for over 100 deaths each year. Overreaching, slipping on steps, poorly-positioned ladders (either at the top or the bottom), defective equipment, and selecting the wrong ladder for a given task are some of the ways that ladders are commonly involved in fall injuries.

Carefully climb the ladder using one rung at a time to reduce the possibility of miscalculating your ascent. Wear the correct shoes with sole traction to avoid slipping. Include gloves if the ladder’s rungs are barren and smooth without serrated traction. Position the ladder firmly and correctly at both its base and its top, making sure to both ensure security at the above surface and to clear any unstable materials from around the ladder’s base that could tumble and throttle its integrity. Read warning labels such as those that prohibit the use of retractable ladder paint plates for standing. Select the appropriate ladder for each job, and always guarantee that the ladder extends at least three feet above the destination surface to promote safe dismount.

Most work places will at one time or another include any number of fall hazards. These can be isolated and minimized by following the right workplace procedures. Limit these injuries by stabilizing above-ground surfaces, using the correct protective equipment, and becoming knowledgeable about your work space so that you can identify a hazard before you approach it.

OSHA Fall Protection Emergencies

If a fall leaves you suspended in a personal fall arrest system, you need to know how to rescue yourself or someone else must know how to rescue you. The pressure on your body from hanging in a body harness can restrict blood flow between your lower extremities and your heart. If you can’t reduce the pressure quickly, you can lose consciousness within minutes.

Locate hazards: Identify the hazards that cause emergencies. Look for fall hazards in the tasks that workers do and the areas in which they work.

Eliminate or control the hazards: After you identify fall hazards, you need to eliminate or control them so that they won’t cause an emergency. You can eliminate many workplaces fall hazards by placing covers over holes, installing guardrails around unprotected roof edges, keeping walkways clean and slip-free, and making sure that you use ladders and scaffolds that will support the weight of you and your equipment.

How to respond if an emergency occurs: plan. At a minimum, a company’s written emergency response plan should do the following:

  • Establish emergency-response procedures
  • Identify critical resources, including first responders, medical supplies and rescue equipment
  • Provide emergency-response training for those affected by an emergency
  • Establish a chain of command. Everyone should know their roles and responsibilities during an emergency; however, one person must be responsible for managing the emergency, this means assessing its scope, and directing the efforts of others
  • Make sure back-up personnel can take over for key players when they are absent

Identify critical resources: Prompt rescues don’t happen without trained first responders, medical supplies and appropriate equipment. First responders are those who perform rescues and provide medical services. They must understand the procedures in the emergency plan, know how to administer first aid and how to use rescue equipment.

  • Every work site needs medical supplies that are stocked and appropriate for worst-case scenarios
  • Identify on-site equipment that responders can use to rescue a suspended worker
  • Always determine where and how each type of equipment would help in a rescue effort
  • Make sure the equipment is readily available

When an emergency occurs: If a suspended worker can’t perform a self-rescue, call the on-site emergency-response team and get the appropriate rescue equipment. First responders should clear a path to the victim. Others should direct emergency personnel.

  • Keep all nonessential personnel from the rescue scene
  • Talk to the worker and try to determine their condition
  • If you can get to the worker, provide comfort them and check vital signs
  • Administer CPR, if necessary and if you’re trained to do so, and attempt to stop any bleeding
  • If the worker’s injuries are minor, proceed with the rescue. Only trained responders should attempt a technical rescue
  • If the worker has severe injuries, contact emergency medical responders

After any emergency: Report fatalities to OSHA within eight hours. Always report all injuries requiring overnight hospitalization and medical treatment, other than first aid, to OSHA, within 24 hours. Document what went wrong. Check all equipment used in the rescue and replace anything that was damaged.

Prompt emergency fall response can prevent injuries from getting worse. It’s important to have a plan in place so everyone is prepared if and when a fall occurs!

We have complete OSHA fall protection solutions for all your needs. Call (877) 640-6571 today to speak with one of our highly skilled safety experts.

Please join us next Friday for more National Safety Month tips!


  1. https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html


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