Falls are still the top cause of serious injuries and deaths for Americans at work. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there were 264 fall fatalities (255 of which were falls to lower levels) in the construction trades in 2010. These deaths were, for the most part, preventable. Employers need to set up their workplace to prevent employee falls from overhead platforms, elevated work stations, into holes in the floor or walls.


To help in this endeavor, OSHA has set up a nationwide outreach campaign. The main thrust of this program is to increase awareness among employers and employees about fall hazards from common workplace settings, such as ladders, scaffolds and roofs.


OSHA has streamlined the information pertaining to falls and fall protection into three concise steps: plan, provide and train. By simplifying the process into these steps, OSHA has tried to make the task of reducing workplace falls much more manageable for everyone involved.


Plan ahead


By planning how to complete a job that involves working from heights, employers can ensure the job is finished safely. Planning can include deciding how the specific job is to be executed, determining what tasks are involved in completing the job and selecting safety equipment that will be needed to complete each task.


Part of estimating a job’s cost includes the resources to provide safety equipment that employees will need. All of this safety equipment must be available when the job begins. If the employees will be working around skylights or leading edges, for example, the employer will need to plan for and choose suitable fall protection for that work, e.g., personal fall arrest systems (PFAS).


Other OSHA requirements for fall protection give employers the opportunity to plan for safety. OSHA requires employers to do the following:


• Provide work conditions that are free of known dangers. While accidents will happen, employers can minimize fall hazard risks using engineering or administrative means by conducting a job-hazard analysis before beginning a job. If this isn’t possible, employers must provide fall protection.


• Keep floors in the work area as clean and dry as possible. Good housekeeping needs to be a scheduled and assigned aspect of the workday. This way, all employees know what their responsibility is.


Provide the correct equipment


Any employee who is positioned 6 feet or more above a lower level is at risk for serious injury or death in the event of a fall. Providing all necessary fall protection is only part of the equation. To keep employees safe while working at heights, employers also must provide the appropriate equipment for the job. This includes the right types of ladders, scaffolds and safety gear.


Employers must remember that all ladders and scaffolds are not created equal. Different jobs and settings necessitate the use of different types of ladders and scaffolds. To keep employees safe while working, it is necessary to provide them with the type of ladder or scaffold that best suits the task at hand. If the work requires employees to use a PFAS, employees who need to tie off to the anchor must be provided with their own safety harness that is properly fitted to their body.


Safe equipment use through training


OSHA requires employers to train employees about job hazards in a language that they can understand. By knowing before a job begins which types of fall protection are needed, employers will also know what training their employees need. They will be able to ensure the trainers are able to present programs in a language other than English, if necessary. 


Train everyone to use the equipment safely. Employee falls can be prevented by training them to recognize the hazards in their work area as well as training them in the care and safe use of ladders, scaffolds and fall-protection systems. By understanding the correct setup and use of equipment, employees will be less likely to become a fall statistic. Through OSHA’s nationwide outreach program, employers are given access to a wide range of training materials dealing with topics like ladder, scaffold and roof safety as well as safety equipment use and inspection. Also provided are various educational materials and resources, such as posters, fact sheets and wallet cards, which can be helpful to both employers and employees. By following OSHA’s approach, we may be able to reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to workplace falls.