Fall Prevention Equipment For Construction Safety: Full Guide ￼
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is keen to raise awareness of how to prevent common construction falls. The administration reports that falls are the leading cause of death within the sector and that they accounted for 351 of the 1,008 construction fatalities in the US in 2020. This is why fall prevention equipment for construction safety is essential.
In June 2022, the Department of Labor found that a Texas business, Shielder Ventures LLC, operating as D&G Quality Roofing, had failed to provide a 21-year-old roofing worker with a personal fall arrest system. The worker suffered fatal injuries after falling 30 feet through a skylight in January 2022, just two months after OSHA issued the company with a citation for a similar offense. D&G Quality Roofing must now pay penalties of $223,341.
This article explores the OSHA fall protection equipment standard, as well as the fall protection systems and prevention equipment you can use for your work.
OSHA standard for fall protection equipment in the construction industry
OSHA 1926.502, titled “fall protection systems criteria and practices”, deals with the obligations of the construction industry to ensure the safety of workers at height. It states:
“Employers shall provide and install all fall protection systems required by this subpart for an employee, and shall comply with all other pertinent requirements of this subpart before that employee begins the work that necessitates the fall protection.”
It sets forth the standards for all forms of fall protection, including guardrails, mid-rails, screens, mesh, safety nets, and more.
Construction Fall Protection Systems
Here are the details of the fall protection systems you will find in the construction industry.
OSHA describes a personal fall arrest system as “a system used to arrest an employee in a fall from a walking-working surface. It consists of a body harness, anchorage, and connector. The means of connection may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or a suitable combination of these.”
Fall arrest systems use a tie-off system to stop a fall that is in process. This limits the force on the body and is used by workers in situations such as working on narrow ledges or near fragile surfaces.
This could be as simple as erecting a guardrail around a sheer drop from the top of a building. However, it could also be a tie-off system that prevents the worker from reaching the sheer drop while they are carrying out their duties.
Work positioning lanyards hold the worker in an elevated vertical position, using tension or suspension. Uses for work positioning include construction on sloped roofs, pole work, tree surgery, and similar.
Workers who need to work on the outside of a building often use suspension and personnel riding systems. These devices lower and raise users as required, supporting them in a vertical position, suspended in a harness, where they have their hands free to allow them to complete their work.
Rescue and retrieval units can work as fall arrest systems alone, with workers using them to lower themselves to the areas in which they work. They can also be used to retrieve incapacitated workers back to safety in the event of an accident.
Rigid Line Fall Arrest Systems
The rigid line fall arrest system features an anchor trolley that runs along a horizontal beam or track. A shock-absorbing or self-retracting lanyard connects the user’s harness to the anchor and prevents them from falling. This means that workers can move freely along the length of the track or beam and remain protected from falls.
Flexible Line Fall Arrest Systems
The flexible line fall arrest system works in the same way as a rigid line system but is more of a temporary structure. Whereas the rigid line is often seen as the solution for permanent structures, many construction firms prefer a flexible system that they can move from site to site.
Rope Grab Systems
Rope grabs allow the user to grip onto the rope as they move up or down to find the ideal place to work. This prevents workers at height from falling whilst carrying out tasks.
The system uses a gate to grab and ungrab the rope as the worker moves around and finds their place. It also automatically grabs the rope in the event that the user falls.
Evacuation/Controlled Descent Systems
You can use a controlled descent system to suspend workers so they can carry out their tasks. When emergencies happen with users working at height, a controlled descent system is also designed to safely retrieve and evacuate them from the situation.
The user or a colleague on the ground, depending on the system, can control the descent, with some systems automatically braking if the user lets go of the device.
Construction Fall Prevention Equipment
You can use guardrails to prevent workers from falling from high edges or down holes, for example. An advantage of guardrails as a safety device is that they do not require workers to undergo any specialist training or wear any particular safety equipment. They are, instead, permanent structures built to stop anyone from stepping over a drop.
On safety nets, OSHA states they “shall be provided when workplaces are more than 25 feet above the ground or water surface, or other surfaces where the use of ladders, scaffolds, catch platforms, temporary floors, safety lines, or safety belts is impractical.”
They should extend eight feet beyond the edge of the drop and should be as close to the work zone as possible, no more than 25 feet below where the workers are situated.
The idea is that they catch anyone who steps off the edge by the drop.
You should install safety gates near “vulnerable openings.” This includes floor openings, platforms, and runways. They need to swing or slide open and be self-closing. The swing or slide should be directed away from the drop.
OSHA brought in this requirement in 2019, meaning that worksites that used chains or single bars to prevent workers from walking through openings are no longer compliant.
You should use toeboards around the edges of platforms and other drops to prevent the risk of tools or other items falling and striking workers below. They should be at least 3.5 inches in height from the platform and able to withstand a force of 50 pounds to remain compliant with the OSHA standard 1910.29.
Canopies are mesh structures used to provide cover to workers below and prevent items from falling on them. OSHA requires that they are strong enough to stay intact and prevent penetration by objects likely to fall on them in the location where you place them.
“Every floor hole into which persons cannot accidentally walk (on account of fixed machinery, equipment, or walls) shall be protected by a cover that leaves no openings more than one inch wide. The cover shall be securely held in place to prevent tools or materials from falling through”.
You should be careful to ensure the wind or other elements will not displace them and that they are strong enough to withstand twice the weight that might reasonably be expected to be placed on them. They should also bear the word “hole” or “cover” and comply with color-coding regulations.
What is the best type of fall prevention system?
The best type of fall prevention system depends on the situation and your requirements. In some situations, for example, where a person can accidentally walk over a hole, a guardrail will be adequate. In other situations, a hole cover is sufficient.
What is the difference between fall restraint and fall arrest?
Here are the differences between fall restraint and fall arrest:
Prevents the fall from happening
Stops the fall as it is happening
Should be the first consideration when dealing with working at height issues
The last consideration when dealing with working at height issues
Users don’t experience the shock and force of the fall
Users suffer the effects of shock and force of the fall
What is Subpart M?
Subpart M is the section in which OSHA details its requirements and criteria for fall
protection in construction workplaces.
What construction areas and activities does Subpart M cover?
Subpart M deals with any area of construction in which a worker can fall or something can fall on a worker.
There is a long list of fall prevention equipment for construction safety, but that simply shows how important it is to protect against this deadly risk. With falls causing such a high percentage of fatalities in the construction sector, every business must take fall prevention seriously and keep its workers safe at all times on site. For more safety tips and resources to help your safety efforts, join our newsletter today.