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A Long Way Down: Avoiding Falls in the Workplace

May 8-12 is OSHA’s 4th Annual National Fall Prevention Safety Stand-Down

Each year, over 100,000 injuries and deaths can be attributed to work-related falls. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) 2016 report, falls are the number one cause of fatalities in the workplace. Companies spend billions (yes, billions) of dollars on increased insurance premiums, workers’ compensation claims, product liability costs, and other related expenses every year. So what can you do to ensure fall safety in your workplace?

OSHA requires employers to:

  • Provide working conditions that are free of known dangers
  • Keep floors in work areas clean, and as dry as possible
  • Select and provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers
  • And to train workers about job hazards and safety standards in a language they can understand.

Fall protection must 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 long shoring operations, according to OSHA. OSHA also requires that fall protection will be provided when working over dangerous equipment or machinery, regardless of the height. Fall protection can consist of guard rails and toe boards around every elevated open-sided platform, floor, or runway. Don’t forget to guard holes in the ground that a worker might walk into; use railing and toeboards, or a floor-hole cover.

If railings and toeboards are used, there are certain provisions that must be followed. Guardrail systems must be capable of withstanding a force of at least 200 pounds applied within 2 inches of the top edge, in any outward or downward direction, at any point along the top edge. Guardrail systems must have a surface to protect workers from punctures or lacerations and to prevent clothing from snagging. When toeboards are used as protection from falling objects, they must be erected along the edges of the overhead walking or working surface for a distance sufficient to protect workers working below. OSHA’s website contains a database of all specific regulations for your use.

While OSHA lists them separately, unsafe scaffolding and ladder practices are two leading contributors to falls in the work place; #3 and #7 in the top violations, respectively. Improper scaffolding practices accounted for 5,423 OSHA-issued violations in 2013. According to a Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) study, 72% of workers who were injured in scaffolding accidents attributed the accident to either the planking or support giving way, or to the employee slipping or being struck by a falling object. One of the ways to prevent accidents on scaffolding is to provide adequate training. OSHA states that each employee who works on a scaffold must be trained by a "qualified" person (i.e., someone who is knowledgeable about scaffold safety) who recognizes hazards associated with the type of scaffold being used and understands the procedures necessary to control or minimize those hazards.

Training should include:

  • The nature of any electrical hazards, fall hazards, and falling object hazards in the work area
  • Correct procedures for dealing with hazards and for using personal fall arrest systems and falling object protection systems
  • Proper use of scaffolds, and the proper handling of materials on scaffolds
  • Maximum intended load and the load-carrying capacities of scaffolds being used

Also, any employees who are involved in the erecting, disassembling, moving, operating, repairing, maintaining, or inspecting of scaffolds must be trained in:

  • The correct procedures for erecting, disassembling, moving, etc., the type of scaffold in question
  • And the design criteria, maximum intended load-carrying capacity, and intended use of the scaffold

Under OSHA regulations, retraining is required whenever:

  • Changes at the worksite create hazards about which employees have not been previously trained
  • When there is new equipment being used or changes in the scaffolds, fall protection, falling object protection, or other equipment that could create new hazards
  • When employee performance indicates that they employees have not retained the safety information they were previously taught

Ladders also contribute to many recorded falls and work place accidents. OSHA estimates that as many as 36 fatalities and 24,882 injuries occur every year due to falls from stairways and ladders used in construction. They also estimate that there are, every year, on average, 11,570 lost workday injuries and 13,312 non-lost workday injuries due to falls from stairways and ladders used in construction.

The four main types of ladder accidents can include:

  • Selecting the wrong type of ladder
    • When selecting a ladder, consider the weight capacity as well as the necessary height needed.
  • Using a worn or damaged ladder
    • Thoroughly inspect every ladder before use, and do not use if any damage is found.
  • Using a ladder incorrectly
    • While using a ladder always maintain 3 points of contact with the ladder to ensure stability. Do not lengthen or alter the ladder in anyway.
  • Placing the ladder incorrectly
    • When you are positioning a ladder, make sure the ground you place it on is level and firm. Ladders should never be placed in front of a door that is not locked, blocked, or guarded. It is a good practice to have a helper to support the base of the ladder, but if you are working solo, then stake the ladder feet down when possible.

OSHA believes 100% of all ladder accidents could be prevented if proper attention to equipment and climber training were provided.

A good safety training program can be an extremely valuable asset to an employer. Employers with effective safety and health training programs enjoy fewer workplace injuries and claims, higher employee morale, and lower insurance premiums. This blog has seven helpful tips if you are looking to create (or revamp) your training program. It is a good idea to review your program yearly to be sure you are complying with all the safety and hazard regulations, both on the federal level and the state level. OSHA provides many free resources, including fact sheets and posters, from their recent campaign to stop falls.

Perhaps the most important aspect of fall prevention is proper training. As mentioned above, training is one of the required elements an employer must provide to their employees. Even a well-planned fall protection program will fail if personnel on the job do not use the equipment available, or do not use it correctly. OSHA offers many different training resources, including specialized handbooks and fall prevention at construction sites, or fall prevention for roofers. Poms Connects also recently highlighted step stool and ladder safety.

With all of the statistics and costs surrounding fall protection and prevention, safety should be a priority in the workplace. According to OSHA, “It has been estimated that employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct worker’s compensation costs alone. The costs of workplace injuries and illnesses include direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include workers' compensation payments, medical expenses, and costs for legal services. Examples of indirect costs include training replacement employees, accident investigation and implementation of corrective measures, lost productivity, repairs of damaged equipment and property, and costs associated with lower employee morale and absenteeism.” The 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index found that “Falls on same level ranked second [in the top ten injury causes] with direct costs of $10.17 billion and accounted for 16.4 percent of the total injury burden. Falls to a lower level ranked third at $5.4 billion and 8.7 percent of the burden, and struck by object or equipment ranked fourth at $5.31 billion and 8.6 percent”. The question isn’t “can we afford to maintain a safe and hazard-free workplace?” but rather, “can we afford not to?”


For additional information about this blog, please contact your Poms & Associates broker, or send your question to us through “Ask Poms.”

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