Avoiding OSHA’s Fatal Four Safety Hazards – Fall Hazards

Construction sites are one of the most dangerous workplaces in the country. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), “nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites on any given day. The fatal injury rate for the construction industry is higher than the national average in this category for all industries.” In fact, 721 of the 4,114 worker fatalities that occurred in 2011 were in construction.

OSHA has determined that there are four main safety hazards that account for 57% of all fatalities at construction sites. Dubbed the “Fatal Four” by OSHA, they include falls, electrocutions, being struck by objects, and caught in or between hazards. Today we will take a look at fall hazards in the first of our four-part series on construction safety and the measures you can take to prevent them from happening on your construction site.

Fall Hazards

Photo courtesy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Photo courtesy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Injuries from falls are the most common cause of construction site fatalities. Some of the main causes of construction site falls are unprotected edges and openings, improper scaffolding construction or use and improper ladder use. Fall protection is required by OSHA for working at a height of six feet or more or anytime someone is working over dangerous equipment and machinery. For workers on scaffolds fall protection must be provided if working 10 feet or more above the lower level. Fall protection and prevention can be accomplished in a couple of different ways.

Guardrails are the only method approved that actually prevents falls from occurring. They are great for unprotected edges, scaffolding work and openings such as from uncovered skylights and elevator shafts. Guardrails must be between 39 and 45 inches in height from the surface. The top rail must be able to withstand a minimum of 200 pounds of force and the middle rail must withstand 150 pounds of force.

The other two acceptable means of fall protection are safety nets and personal fall arrest systems. Safety nets should be placed as close as reasonable to the work area and cannot exceed being placed more than 30 feet below the work area. Border ropes on the safety net must have a minimum strength of 5,000 pounds and the net must be able to absorb a drop test using a 400-pound bag of sand. The nets must extend a minimum of eight feet out horizontally from the work surface. OSHA provides a formula on the horizontal distance a safety net must extend based on the vertical distance from the working level to the horizontal plane of the safety net.

A personal fall arrest system consists of three main components: anchorage, connecting device and a full-body harness. The anchorage and the D-rings or snap hooks and vertical lifelines or lanyards that make up the connecting device must each be able to support a minimum of 5,000 pounds. Personal fall arrest systems should be inspected before each use to ensure everything is working properly and is free of damage. Also, the lanyard or lifeline should be short enough to avoid the worker from making contact with the level below in the event of a fall. In order to achieve this you need to take into account the length of the lanyard, length of dynamic elongation due to elastic stretch and the height of the worker.

Improper scaffolding and ladder use are the other main contributors to falls at construction sites. Scaffolds must be designed by qualified personnel and a competent person is required to oversee scaffold construction. Supported scaffolds must be able to support its own weight and four times the intended load including the weight of all workers, materials and tools being placed on it. The ropes for suspended scaffolds must each be able to support the weight of the scaffold and six times the intended load. The platforms must be properly planked and have a minimum width of at least 18 inches. As mentioned earlier, when working on scaffolds 10 feet or higher OSHA requires fall protection be provided for workers. Safe access to the scaffold must be provided along with proper training on scaffold use.

Improper ladder use is another common cause of falls at construction sites. Some of the reasons for ladder falls include incorrect ladder choice, failure to properly secure the ladder and attempting to carry tools and materials by hand while climbing. When choosing a ladder you should make sure that it’s in good condition and working properly. You also need to make sure that the ladder is long enough to be placed at a stable angle and be able to extend three feet above the work surface. Tie the ladder to a secure point at the top and bottom to avoid it from sliding or falling. You should always maintain three points of contact when ascending or descending a ladder. Tools and materials should be carried up using a tool belt or a rope to pull things up once you’ve stopped climbing.

Safety First

Jobsite safety should constantly be on the mind of each and every worker each and every day. Accidents are going to happen but by implementing and enforcing proper safety protocols the number of occurrences can be greatly reduced and the damages caused can be drastically mitigated.

Site supervisors should assess the jobsite before any work begins and identify all potential hazards and ensure that measures are in place to protect all workers from accidents. Workers should be notified of all potential hazards and warning signs should be posted around the construction site to notify workers of safety precautions they should be taking. Ongoing safety training should be provided to all employees regardless of their years of experience. Making the jobsite as safe as possible should be the top priority on any construction job.

While you can’t prevent every accident from occurring, by educating workers with proper safety training, providing personal protective equipment and strictly and adamantly adhering to OSHA regulations and guidelines for the construction industry you can greatly reduce the number and severity of occurrences.

For more information on compliance with OSHA’s construction industry regulations, visit their website at http://www.osha.gov/doc/index.html.

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