Using Fall Protection: How to Reduce the Risk of Falling on Construction Job Sites

two construction workers wearing fall protection while working

Preventing the risk of falling is always the best way to ensure the safety of workers on a jobsite. However, when risk cannot be prevented, reducing risk is the best way to keep workers safe. Falls are still the leading cause of fatalities on construction sites, despite how far the construction industry has come in safety and protection.

While Personal Fall Protection Equipment (PFPE) can be useful, it is important to understand that preventing and reducing risks of falling is always the best and most effective protection for employees on a jobsite. Companies should be invested in the attention to detail and planning required to ensure the safest possible conditions for workers.

The right time to use fall protection

Companies need to be aware and proactive about preventing falls. Some circumstances which create fall risk are not as obvious as others. Fall protection is needed when:

Working from heights: This might seem obvious (working on the scaffolding of a high rise building or standing on a mobile elevated work platform), but some high places in need of fall protection can be less apparent. Working near an excavation area can create a risk for fall despite being on ground level. Using or working on fragile materials can also increase risk of falling. Finally, working near a hole in the ground or a floor can create fall risk. OSHA requires fall protection when workers are 6ft above the ground. This may look like a guard rail or a parapet wall no matter how close workers are to the edge.

Working near an edge: A leading edge is an unprotected edge that changes as construction progresses. Because of their ever-shifting locations, companies need to be proactive about fall protection near this type of edge.

Working on steep surfaces: The slope of the steep edge (most often a roof) will determine the need for guardrails, safety nets, etc. Steep surfaces affect balance and therefore require thought about fall protection.


Training

One of the greatest lines of defense is the training given to workers. Following and enforcing guidelines from OSHA and ANSI are the first level of preparation. Companies, however, can equip their employees more with training about the specific equipment either through a rental equipment company or through their own, skilled workers. For example, AMCHoist offers Crane and Load inspections. The American Society of Safety Professionals also offers a Minimum Requirements for a Comprehensive Managed Fall Protection Program (ANSI/ASSP Z359.2 – 2017) which can serve as a starting point to develop fall risk prevention and reduce risk.

Though there are many ways to develop such programs, a culture of safety is important to create on a construction site, and it has to be cultivated from the leadership. Leaders can encourage employees to follow program guidelines and value safety protocols that protect fellow workers. Company owners and leaders can participate in trainings and uphold safety standards alongside the workers on site to cultivate a culture that prevents and reduces fall risk. Listening to employees on site who are most at risk of falling is important as well for unnecessary injury.

Preventing falls

There is a hierarchy which helps in planning well for fall prevention. It includes the following four steps:

Elimination: Reduce or eliminate the amount of time a worker spends in a situation with risk of a fall. This means using machinery when possible to work with materials that are in more hazardous areas of a construction site. This can play out in many ways, for instance constructing something on the ground and lifting it with a crane to place it, rather than having workers construct the component in a hazardous area.


Passive Fall Protection: This is known by many other terms (prevention, engineering controls, etc). But works as barriers and railings that keep workers from falling or entering dangerous areas. This can also include administrative controls such as warning signs, procedures, rules, and training.


Fall Restraint: This system uses a tie-off in order to make sure that the workers do not get close to edges they could fall from. It helps them stay close to the safest parts of a high-risk area.


Fall Arrest: Also known as PFPE, fall arrest is the least effective protection against injury from falling, but can still protect a worker to some degree. It is designed to stop a falling worker from reaching the ground. This type of prevention is designed as a harness or lanyard and requires intensive training and precautions to use. Fall arrest should never be the only method of protection for a worker, though it can be a necessary one.

The safety of workers on a construction site is one of the most important considerations and requires resources to plan well. Contact AMC Hoist for more information on trainings and inspections to ensure your site stays safe!

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