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Brooks Schuelke
Brooks Schuelke
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Construction Site Safety: Preventing Falls

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Recently, a construction worker at the State Department building in Washington D.C. fell 40 feet and landed on concrete. Somehow the worker was not seriously injured. Others are not so lucky. Fortunately, as Steve Lombardi has already mentioned, we are dedicating the month of July to construction safety. So let’s start with a discussion on construction falls…

According to OSHA , the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry is falls. Fall-related injuries are mostly caused by:

· Unprotected sides, wall openings, and floor holes

· Improper scaffold construction

· Unguarded protruding steel bars

· Misuse of portable ladders

Approximately one-third of all deaths in construction result from falls from elevations. This being so, it is important to recognize potential hazards. OSHA has determined the majority of construction site falls occur from ladders, scaffolds, and buildings or other structures. Ladders can cause injuries ranging from sprains to deaths. The ladder itself may be dangerous if it is not safely positioned each time it is in use because it may move or slip from its supports. While in use, a worker can easily lose their balance on the ladder. So how can you prevent falls? First, inspect the ladder before each use, making certain there are no cracked or broken parts such as rings or locking components. The ladder should have appropriate safety features, such as slip resistant rungs/steps, positioning feet, and top and bottom stabilizers. If the ladder is portable, make sure the side rails extend at least 3 feet above the landing. If a 3 foot extension is not possible, secure the side rails at the top to a support and use a grab device. Remember not to apply more weight on the ladder than it is designed to support. For more on ladder fall prevention tips, please see Ladder Safety.

Scaffold falls result in similar consequences to those of ladder falls. The danger can stem from improperly constructed scaffolds to working with heavy equipment and materials on the limited scaffold space. Without fall protection, the job becomes hazardous. So how do you ensure your safety? Make sure construction of all scaffolds is according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It is important to inspect the scaffold before relying on its use. According to OSHA, a scaffold is not in compliance with safety regulations if it mixes several different scaffold components in the same scaffold. Also, look at the guardrails. A system of guardrails should always be installed, especially all open sides and ends of platforms. The guardrails must always be complete. If you choose not to employ guardrails, OSHA requires the alternate use of a personal fall arrest system. This alternative system includes a variety of fall prevention equipment such as body harnesses, vertical lifeline/lanyards, webbing, and anchorages. To find out more about personal arrest systems, you can click here . To read more about scaffold safety, please visit Scaffold Access .

Falls from buildings or other structures occur mostly because of unprotected sides and wall openings. If sides and openings are not protected at the construction site, injuries from falls can result. To protect workers at construction sites, OSHA requires the use at least one of the following: guardrails systems , safety net systems , or personal fall arrest systems . Although any of the systems may be used, OSHA notes that it is better to use guardrails as they are a fall prevention system, rather than fall protection systems like safety nets or fall arrest devices.

The construction site employer must make active efforts to prevent injury from falls on their site. To do so, a construction employer may follow the below tips:

1. Develop a written fall prevention plan.

2. Identify potential fall hazards prior to each project and during daily walk-arounds. Pay attention to hazards associated with routine and non-routine tasks.

3. Eliminate the need for fall protection where possible by rescheduling the task, isolating the task, or changing the task.

4. Ensure that fall protection equipment is appropriate for the task, in good condition, and used properly.

5. Conduct general fall prevention training on a regular basis.

6. Train workers on the specific fall hazards identified and on the required personal protective equipment.

7. Conduct regular inspections of fall protection equipment in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations and OSHA requirements.

8. Emphasize fall hazards unique to the site, such as open floor holes or shafts, riser penetrations, and skylights.

9. Team up with other construction employers and employees to identify best practices and share fall prevention solutions.

For additional information regarding construction site safety, visit OSHA or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Remember, it only takes a second to fall.