It’s vital to talk about fall protection if anyone in your company works at a height. According to the Department of Labor, falls are the most common cause of death in the construction sector. In construction only, 320 out of the 1,008 deaths in 2018, resulted from a fall to a lower level. In addition, OSHA revealed that fall protection in construction was the most cited standard in 2019. While fall protection training requirements across all sectors are standing at number eight on the cited list.
What Causes Falls in the Workplace?
There are two main areas to look at when thinking about the cause of falls in the workplace:
Unsafe Conditions That Lead to Falls
Unsafe conditions are factors in the work environment that lead to a fall. It may be a slippery surface, a faulty piece of equipment, an uneven walkway, or anything in the location where the fall took place.
From 2011 to 2016, ladders were the most common cause of fatal injuries from falling. Two examples of unsafe conditions on a ladder are an eroded rung that gave way or a worker lost his balance and fell backward.
Unsafe Actions That Lead to Falls
Unsafe actions are actions that have the potential to threaten the safety and/or health of others. This includes everything from horseplay to improper repair work or failing to follow safety procedures.
Using ladders as an example again, unsafe actions include failing to select the correct ladder for the job or overreaching. Another often neglected ladder safety principle is to allow a three-foot clearance for ladder side rails, above the upper level before using it.
OSHA Regulation for Fall Protection (OSHA Fall Protection Inspection Requirements)
OSHA requires that employers design sites in a manner that prevents workers from falling down holes, elevated workstations, and overhead platforms. The administration dictates that businesses must provide workers with a personal fall protection system such as a full body harness or a safety net system to carry out certain tasks.
These tasks include working around floor openings, wall openings, or at certain heights. Workers in different industries should use fall protection when working higher than the minimum height requirement for that industry.
Here are details of minimum height requirements per industry:
Minimum Height Requirement For Fall Protection
Employers should always provide fall protection when an employee works over dangerous equipment. In this case, there is no minimum height requirement.
At the very basic level, it is an employer’s duty to:
- Keep the working environment free from any dangers.
- Provide the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers at no cost to the workers.
- Maintain clean, and as far as possible, dry floors.
- Alert workers to the hazards in their workplace and train them in a language they could be reasonably expected to understand.
In practice, basic level fall protection includes:
- Guarding floor holes where there is a possibility that a worker may walk over it. Options for guards include a railing, a toeboard, or a hole cover.
- Installing guardrails and toeboards where there is a chance of workers falling into machinery or any dangerous equipment.
- Protect workers who use open-sided runways, aerial lifts, ramps, floors, or platforms with guardrails and toeboards.
- Providing any necessary PPE and safety equipment for the tasks at hand. Examples include handrails, safety nets, safety harnesses, safety lines, and stair railings.
Fall Prevention & Protection Safety Talks
We all know that safety talks are an excellent way to bring relevant info to workers. Take a look at the list we’ve gathered with great ideas for fall prevention and protection toolbox talks. Regular safety refreshers keep you in line with OSHA’s requirements. They also help to reduce accidents on-site, while keeping safety at the top of everyone’s mind.
General Fall Prevention Safety Talk
Introducing everyone to the general topic of fall prevention is a great idea, especially when you’re preparing a construction toolbox talk. You’ll give them an overview of common hazards and enable them to identify the most likely fall risks in the workplace. Build your safety talk about the most likely cause of falls in your sector, and split that into unsafe conditions and unsafe acts.
This general fall prevention toolbox talk will give you a head start.
Ladder Safety Toolbox Talk
Ladders are causing a lot of workplace falls, so if you use ladders, it’s imperative to focus on them in some of your toolbox talks. Encourage staff to think about different types of ladders, including step ladders and extension ladders, and guide them to choose the correct one for the job. Include a rundown of how to inspect a ladder and remind them of the best practices when using ladders. Take a look at our guide to learn more about the types of ladders per OSHA.
Here are a few different ladder safety talks you can use.
Scaffolding Safety Talk
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 61 workplace fatalities relating to scaffolding in 2018. Ensure that workers who use scaffolding do so safely by presenting a toolbox talk on this topic. Surface conditions, overhead hazards, spotting deterioration, and scaffold components are some of the aspects you need to cover.
This is a template for a scaffolding toolbox talk.
Roofing Toolbox Talks
There are several things to consider if you want to work safely on a sloped roof. Employees need to know who is allowed access, hazards to look out for, protective equipment needed, and what to do in an emergency.
Here is a roofing toolbox talk that you can use.
Safety Harness Safety Talks
When it comes to fall protection, the safety harness is one of the most important pieces of equipment. It’s critical to know the correct use of a harness, and how to check that it’s in good working order before working with it. A full-body harness toolbox talk should include details of what to inspect, and the correct cleaning and maintenance procedures.
Find an example harness safety talk here.
Self-Retracting Lanyards Toolbox Talks
A self-retracting lanyard (SRL) sometimes called a lifeline, is as important as a safety harness when working at a height. Using a lanyard incorrectly can lead to accidents, but with proper training, such accidents can be avoided. Toolbox talks about SRL will train workers about lanyard safety (e.g. selecting an anchor point), proper inspection, servicing, and storage.
Click here for an SRL safety talk.
Fall Protection Clearance Safety Talk
There are a few rules your employees need to know about. OSHA has rules that indicate the maximum free fall distance when using a personal fall arrest system (PFAS). Then there are rules about proximity to other levels and other aspects to consider when setting up your PFAS.
Training your employees is also important to help them understand the rules. They need to know how to use a deceleration device with a shock absorber. And, before a worker puts on a safety harness, they should understand the reasoning behind the OSHA fall clearance regulations.
All the information you need for a fall protection clearance toolbox talk.
Hidden Openings Toolbox Talk
Hidden openings are a common workplace hazard and it’s not only found on upper levels but also on the ground level. These hidden openings are prevalent on construction sites, it is important to train workers to properly secure and cover openings and also to be alert to the possibility of finding one during the working day.
Here is a toolbox talk on hidden openings.
Tips & Best Practices to Avoid Falls in the Workplace
Much of these tips are common sense, but common sense is easily forgotten in the rush of daily operations. So it’s always good to remind your staff of the best practices to avoid falls in the workplace:
- Every worker should have access to the correct PPE, and receive training to use it safely. Fall protection systems are one form of personal protective equipment also known as PPE.
- All staff must be up to date with maintenance procedures that will ensure equipment safety.
- Workers should be trained in the OSHA-regulated safety procedures for every person’s job description.
- It’s essential to update the placement of guardrail systems and toeboards. These placements need to be included in your regular training and toolbox talks.
- Be sure to train workers to identify all fall hazards. It should become second nature for workers to identify a fall hazard in any given situation.
- Regular risk assessments and reevaluation of your safety procedures are essential to keep up-to-date with fall prevention.
- Lighting is important to help workers identify fall hazards. Make sure the workplace is well lit according to the OSHA lighting requirements.
- Place warning signs near fall hazards that will alert workers. Also, place instruction signs in strategic places to remind them of their responsibility to help keep the workplace safe.
- Implement successful safety incentive programs that will improve your workplace safety culture.
- Implement a near-miss reporting procedure. And, while you’re at it, check out our blog on OSHA’s definition of a near miss as well as our list of 18 near miss reporting examples.
When should fall protection be used?
Workers should wear fall protection when they work above a certain height, dependent on the sector (see table above). Other situations in which you need fall protection, include working within six feet of leading edges, unprotected skylights, openings, floor openings, or hatches. Also, when you work over dangerous materials or machinery, you should wear fall protection and it’s advisable to install a safety net.
What does fall protection PPE include?
Fall protection PPE includes a safety harness, SRL, and temporary anchorage points to protect a worker when falling from a height. It’s wise to research the types of fall protection equipment that are required for your industry.
Who needs fall protection equipment?
Anyone working at a height in any industry needs personal fall protection equipment. It will ensure peace of mind knowing they are protected if they might fall. In other words, if there is the slightest risk of falling, the worker should have the relevant PPE.
There are so many different areas of fall prevention to discuss that you won’t fit all the relevant information into one meeting. However, it is important to explore all the necessary topics to increase safety on your site. Perhaps create a checklist to ensure you cover everything over time. In any case, a fall protection toolbox talk is vital for tackling this leading cause of workplace fatalities and serious injuries. The toolbox talks listed above are great resources to help you explore this important occupational safety topic and meet the requirements under OSHA’s advice.