Here on The Yard, we talk about fall protections often, and for good reason: They’re the leading cause of death on construction jobsites. The more you know about how to adhere to OSHA safety standards, the better. To help with the cause, each year OSHA invites construction workers to join in the National Safety Stand Down, which recently took place in May.
This month, as part of National Safety Month, we’re taking a look at some of the most common fall protection rules that employers violate to keep you and your teams from making the same mistakes.
This standard requires employers to protect employees on residential construction projects from falls when they are working at heights of six feet or more. Protections include guardrails, safety nets and personal protective equipment (PPE). With more than 4,000 violations, failing to comply with this rule made it the most-cited of 2017.
Employees on walking-working surfaces with an unprotected side must be protected from falls if they are six feet or more above a lower level. Keep all walking-working surfaces clear of debris, dry and install appropriate fall protection, like guardrails. Since slipping and falling can be just as dangerous as falling from a height, be sure to identify and minimize all slip, trip and fall hazards your employees might encounter.
OSHA recently updated walking-working surface safety rules to further reduce slip, trip and fall hazards, so keep reading to learn more about the changes.
CFR 1926.501(b)(10) & 1926.501(b)(11)
1,072 citations total
Employees working on low-slope and steep roofs with unprotected edges six feet or more above the ground need to be protected with a combination of safety devices. On both steep and low-slope roofs, workers can be protected with guardrails, safety nets or personal fall arrest systems. Employers can also install warning line or use safety monitoring systems on low-slope roofs.
Safety monitoring means designating a safety monitor whose only job is to warn workers of fall hazards. If you’re using a safety monitor as a means of fall protection, they can work on only one walking-working surface — if employees are working on different areas of the roof, each area needs its own monitor. It’s recommended that safety monitoring is used in conjunction with other fall protections rather than on its own.
Workers on scaffolding must be protected from falls when they are 10 feet or more above a lower level. Generally, this means using guardrails, personal fall arrest systems, toeboards or grab lines, or a combination of those. Working on scaffolding also requires protection against dropped or falling objects, like debris nets or screens that catch falling materials.
Nearly one-fourth of fatal falls are from ladders, and in some cases, that could be due to failure to adhere to this subsection. Ladders must extend three feet past the top of the landing surface it rests on. If that’s not possible, the top of the ladder needs to be secured to the landing surface and there must be a grabrail or another device to help workers get off the ladder. Workers should not stand on and work from the top two steps of a ladder, and no more than one person should use the ladder at once.
Ladder safety rules were updated along with walking-working surface guidelines in 2018 to mandate that all fixed ladders must be outfitted with a cage, well, ladder safety system or a personal fall arrest system. And by 2036, cages and wells will no longer be an option, and all fixed ladders will need to be equipped with a safety system.
Updated walking-working surfaces and fall protection standards
Published in the Federal Register in late 2016, walking-working surfaces and fall protections standards were updated to give employers more flexibility in compliance. That means if previously mandated protections create a greater hazard or if their use isn’t feasible on a jobsite, the employer can adjust fall protections to work for their situation.
That’s not the only thing the rule changed — here’s a look at other worker protections that were improved:
- Phases out the use of approved climbers in outdoor advertising
- Requires fixed ladders over 24 feet to be equipped with personal fall protection or ladder safety systems
- Updated personal fall protection system criteria
- Requires the use of body harnesses and prohibits the use of body belts
- Requires workers to be trained and retrained as necessary on the use of personal fall protection systems
Some parts of the rule took effect back in 2017 and other parts are being phased in. Take a look at the updates in more detail and keep up with any changes you need to make.
The importance of fall protections can’t be overstated; between 2011 and 2016, deaths from falling rose 26%. While new, tech-improved safety solutions and updated OSHA rules are a step in the right direction, fall protections won’t work if they are not properly implemented and if workers aren’t correctly — and repeatedly — trained on how to use them.
Remember, falls are preventable, and you can keep workers safe with ongoing training, updates to your fall protection policies, participating in the National Safety Stand-Down each year and revisiting your safety protocol annually during National Safety Month.