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Fall Protection

Published: 09th May 2012


In the construction industry in the US, falls are the leading cause of worker fatalities. Each year on average from 150 to 200 workers are killed, and more than 100,000 are injured as a result of falls at construction sites.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recognises that accidents involving falls are generally complex events, frequently involving a variety of factors. Consequently, the standard for fall protection deals with both human and equipment related issues in protecting workers from fall hazards. The most important fall protection regulations for the construction industry are:

• OSHA 1926 Subpart M App C (Federal law)

• ANSI Z359 Fall Protection Code (Nationally recognised safety standard)

• ANSI A10.32 Construction Fall Protection

What is fall protection?

Fall protection is a broad term that is used to describe various types of equipment and policies. They help to minimise the potential for workers to be injured when managing tasks that are high above ground level.

What does the fall protection standard cover?

OSHA has revised its construction industry safety standards and developed systems and procedures designed to prevent employees from falling off, onto, or through working levels, and to protect them from falling objects. The performance oriented requirements make it easier for employers to provide the necessary protection. The rule covers most construction workers except those inspecting, investigating, or assessing workplace conditions, and prior to the start of work or after all work has been completed. The rule identifies areas or activities where fall protection is needed. These include but are not limited to, ramps, runways, and other walkways, excavations, hoist areas, holes, formwork and reinforcing steel, leading edge work, unprotected sides and edges, overhand bricklaying and related work, roofing work, precast concrete erection, wall openings, residential construction, and other walking or working surfaces. The rule sets a uniform threshold height of six feet (1.8 metres), thereby providing consistent protection. This means that construction employers must protect their employees from fall hazards whenever an affected employee is six feet or more above a lower level. Protection must also be provided for construction workers who are exposed to the hazard of falling onto dangerous equipment. Under the standard, employers are able to select fall protection measures compatible with the type of work being performed. The OSHA rule clarifies what an employer must do to provide fall protection for employees, such as identifying and evaluating fall hazards and providing specific training. Requirements to provide fall protection for workers on scaffolds and ladders and for workers engaged in steel erection of buildings are covered in other subparts of OSHA regulations.

Why do we need protection from falling?

We need protection because even those of us with experience working at heights can lose our balance or grip; we can slip, trip, or misstep at any time. We may think that our reflexes will protect us, but we're falling before we know it, and we don't have to fall far to be?seriously injured. We've been falling since Day One. Until we get better at landing, we'll need protection from falling.

How do construction workers fall?

Did you know that falls from ladders, roofs and scaffolds account for more than half of all disabling falls to lower levels? These are also the most frequent disabling falls within the construction trades. The cause of these falls is due to a loss of balance caused by slipping and tripping, and shifting or unstable ladders. Below is a prioritised list showing the types of falls that cause the most injuries:

• Falls from ladders

• Falls to lower level, unspecified

• Falls from roofs

• From scaffolds or staging

• Falls from nonmoving vehicles

• Falls from floors, docks, or ground level

• Falls down stairs

• Falls from girders or structural steel

• Falls from piled or stacked material

Fall protection systems

If workers will be exposed to fall hazards that you can't eliminate, you'll need to prevent falls from occurring or ensure that if workers do fall they aren't injured. A fall protection system is designed to prevent or arrest falls. A variety of systems may be chosen from when providing fall protection. These systems include:

• Guardrails: Standard guardrails consist of a toprail located 42 inches above the floor, and a midrail. Screens and mesh may be used to replace the midrail, so long as they extend from the toprail to the floor

• Personal fall arresting systems: Components of a personal fall arresting system include a body harness, lanyard, lifeline, connector and an anchorage point capable of supporting at least 5000lbs

• Positioning device systems: Positioning device systems consist of a body belt or harness rigged to allow work on a vertical surface, such as a wall, with both hands free

• Safety monitoring by a competent person: This system allows a trained person to monitor others as they work on elevated surfaces and warn them of any fall hazards

• Safety net systems: These systems consist of nets installed as close as possible under the work area

• Warning line systems: Warning line systems are made up of lines or ropes installed around a rooftop work area. They act as a barrier to prevent those working on the roof from approaching its edges

• Covers: Covers are fastened over holes in the working surface to prevent falls

Obligation to use fall protection

Unless elsewhere provided for within fall regulations, an employer must ensure that a fall protection system is used when work is being done, either at a place where a fall of three metres or more may occur, or where a fall from a lesser height involves a greater risk of injury than would occur from the impact on a flat surface. Following hazard identification, a written programme should be developed specifying how to deal with each hazard. If standardised safe work practises and operating procedures can eliminate the hazard, then such procedures should be specified. Where hazard elimination is impossible, the plan should state what fall protection measures are to be used, how they are to be used, and who is responsible for the overall supervision and training. This programme need not be elaborate but it should cover the basic elements of the plan.

Factors that could increase the risk of falls

Will tasks expose workers to overhead power lines? Will they need to use scaffolds, ladders, or aerial lifts on unstable or uneven ground? Will they be working during hot, cold, or windy weather? Depending on their role, specific ergonomics must also be considered. Will workers need to frequently lift, bend, or move in ways that put them off balance? Will they be working extended shifts that could contribute to fatigue? Other hazardous factors that could increase the risk of falls include:

• Holes in walking or working surfaces that they could step into or fall through

• Walking or working surfaces elevated ten feet or more above a lower level

• Skylights and smoke domes that workers could step into or fall through

• Wall openings such as those for windows or doors that workers could fall through

• Trenches and other excavations that workers could fall into

• Walking or working surfaces from which workers could fall onto dangerous equipment

• Hoist areas where guardrails have been removed to receive materials

• Sides and edges of walking or working surfaces such as established floors, mezzanines, balconies, and walkways that are six feet or more above a lower level, and not protected by guardrails at least 39 inches high

• Ramps and runways that are not protected by guardrails at least 39 inches high

• Leading edges of floors, roofs and decks that change location as additional sections are added

• Wells, pits, or shafts not protected with guardrails, fences, barricades or covers

What is a fall hazard?

A fall hazard is anything in the workplace that could cause an unintended loss of balance or bodily support and result in a fall. Fall hazards are foreseeable. You can identify and eliminate or control them before they cause injuries. Fall hazards cause accidents such as the following:

• A worker walking near an unprotected leading edge trips over a protruding board

• A worker slips while climbing an icy stairway

• A makeshift scaffold collapses under the weight of four workers and their equipment

• A worker carrying a sheet of plywood on a flat roof steps into a skylight opening

Fall protection categories

All fall protection products fit into four functional categories: fall arrest, positioning, suspension and retrieval.

Fall arrest

A fall arrest system is required if any risk exists that a worker may fall from an elevated position, and as a general rule, the fall arrest system should be used any time a working height of six feet or more is reached. Working height is the distance from the walking or working surface to a grade or lower level. A fall arrest system will only come into service should a fall occur. A full body harness with a shock absorbing lanyard or retractable lifeline is the only product recommended. A full body harness distributes the forces throughout the body, and the shock absorbing lanyard decreases the total fall arresting forces.


The positioning system holds the worker in place while keeping their hands free to work. Whenever the worker leans back, the system is activated; however, the personal positioning system is not specifically designed for fall arrest purposes.


Lowering and supporting the worker while allowing a hands free work environment, this equipment is widely used in window washing and painting industries. The suspension system components are not designed to arrest a free fall, so a backup fall arrest system should be used in conjunction with the suspension system.


Preplanning for retrieval in the event of a fall should be taken into consideration when developing a proactive fall management programme. Basic steps to prevent falls from heights at the workplace Step one: Determine what responsibilities everyone has for managing a fall Everyone at the workplace is responsible for health and safety, including managing the prevention of falls. Responsibilities differ depending on the job, the site, specific task required, who is in control of the site or the job and whether the person has duties as an occupier, an employer, an employee or an erector or plant installer will also affect their responsibilities. Designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of equipment used in workplaces also have responsibilities regarding fall prevention. For each job it needs to be decided who has specific responsibilities for particular tasks so a safe work environment can be maintained at all times. This requirement includes responsibilities for ensuring adequate fall prevention is in place, any equipment is used correctly, safety measures are maintained and workers are given adequate instruction and training. Step two: Identify all fall hazards Employers must identify all tasks that involve the possibility of someone falling more than two metres. Tasks may include:

• Construction, demolition, repairs or maintenance on any plant or structure

• Work on fragile or unstable surfaces

• The need for equipment to gain access

• Work on sloping or slippery surfaces

• Work near an edge, hole, pit or shaft To assist with identifying the above tasks, employers must also keep their knowledge about fall hazards up to date. Step three: Assess risks and situations where someone may fall from height For each task identified above, duty holders need to determine whether there is a risk of falling from height and consider the circumstances that may increase the risk of a fall. Things that should be considered include: • The nature, size and layout of the workplace

• The duration, extent and type of work to be undertaken; for example, will a visual check be sufficient or is installation or repair needed? If repair is needed, how long will the job take?

• What height will workers be required to access or undertake work at?

• Training and experience of employees undertaking the work; for example, are trainees or apprentices involved?

• How will the work area be accessed? Consider terrain, travel distance, ease of access for equipment

• The number and movement of people and plant on the work site; for example, are there workers or forklifts nearby that could interfere with fall prevention measures? Do their movements cross paths with one another, increasing the likelihood of a fall?

Conditions of work. Is it windy or slippery? If there are poor lighting conditions, sloping surfaces or other hazards above or below a work area such as power lines, impaling hazards or trees, these could all add risk and must be considered when assessing a situation Step four: What safety measures are needed to prevent a fall or minimise the risk? Where the fall height is greater than two metres, the hierarchy requires a duty holder to minimise risk as far as is reasonably practicable by reference to the highest order control measure. Where there is the potential for someone to fall two metres or less the above hierarchy is not a legal requirement; however, it is a useful guide to control the risks associated with such work. Step five: Implement fall prevention measures Where it is determined there is a risk of a person falling from height, a duty holder must implement measures that control the risk as far as is reasonably practicable. This requirement includes providing adequate instruction, information and training to staff. Step six: Ensure emergency procedures are in place in case of a fall Emergency procedures should be in place where physical fall prevention devices are being used. The procedures must enable the rescue of an employee in the event of a fall and ensure first aid is provided to an employee who has fallen as soon as possible after the emergency situation arises. Step seven: Ensure plant and prevention measures are adequate and maintained Ensure any plant being used is designed and constructed for the task at hand and that it can be used safely. Ensure fall prevention devices used by workers are properly maintained and used as prescribed. Step eight: Check risk assessments and safety measures at every site as the situation requires Conditions, equipment, tasks and personnel can change from site to site and while a task is being undertaken, so it is important to ensure work can be carried out safely at all times. Checking assessments and safety measures at each site as and when situations change assists in ensuring a safe work environment.

What is your fall protection role?

Everyone in the workplace has a role to play in preventing falls. Employers: Identify fall hazards at the site. They eliminate the hazards and prevent falls from occurring, or ensure that if falls do occur, employees are not injured. It is also the responsibility of employers to ensure that employees follow safe practises, use fall protection equipment properly, and are trained to recognise fall hazards. Employees: Must follow safe work practises, use equipment properly, and participate in training. They should learn to recognise unsafe practises, know the tasks that increase the risk of falling, and understand how to control exposure to fall hazards. Engineers: Are responsible for educating employers about hazards that could expose workers to falls during each phase of a project. When designing buildings and structures, engineers consider fall protection and other safety needs of those who will do the construction work. Managers: Ensure that those who do exterior construction or maintenance work know how to protect themselves from falls, are aware of installed anchorages and know how to use their fall protection equipment. Equipment manufacturers: Ensure that fall protection equipment meets federal OSHA and ANSI safety requirements and protects workers when they use it properly. They also warn workers through instruction manuals and on equipment labels about the dangers of using equipment improperly. How should we protect ourselves from falling? For many in the construction industry, fall protection equipment is the first thing that comes to mind; but fall protection means more than equipment. Fall protection is what you do to eliminate fall hazards, to prevent falls, and to ensure that workers who may fall aren't injured. You accomplish fall protection by doing the following:

• Make fall protection part of your workplace safety and health programme

• Identify and evaluate fall hazards

• Eliminate fall hazards where possible

• Train workers to recognise fall hazards

• Use appropriate equipment to prevent falls and to protect workers if they do fall

• Inspect and maintain fall protection equipment before and after using it

• Become familiar with OSHA and your company’s fall protection rules

In conclusion

Employers must provide a training programme that teaches employees who might be exposed to fall hazards how to recognise such hazards and how to minimise them. Employees must be trained in the following areas:

• The nature of fall hazards in the work area

• The correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling and inspecting fall protection systems

• The use and operation of controlled access zones and guardrail, personal fall arrest, safety net, warning line and safety monitoring systems

• The role of each employee in the safety monitoring system when the system is in use

• The limitations on the use of mechanical equipment during the performance of roofing work on low sloped roofs

• The correct procedures for equipment and materials handling, and storage and the erection of overhead protection

• Employees' role in fall protection plans Employers must prepare a written certification that identifies the employee trained and the date of the training. The employer or trainer must sign the certification record. Retraining also must be provided when necessary so that we can work towards reducing the occurrence of fatalities in the workplace. It’s worth remembering that unless training is documented the employer has no way of ascertaining the success of his/her training programme – beyond the occurrence of an accident. In that sense monitoring and assessing training success, or identifying where improvements need to be made, are vital tools in the process of preventing injuries – or worse, casualites – as a result of a fall from height.

Published: 09th May 2012 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Mohamed Abdel Salam