Why is fall protection important at job sites?
Falls in construction account for about one-third of fatalities in the industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 291 falls resulting in death in 2013 out of 828 total fatalities. OSHA has recognized that there are many elements, human and equipment based, that act as catalysts for falls. They can be complicated events with many factors making it necessary for a wide range of requirements to keep workers safe.
OSHA’s Subpart M Guidelines
Subpart M, found in Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Subpart M - Fall Protection, consists of the guidelines and requirements for fall protection within construction sites. It applies to most situations and working conditions except to workers that are inspecting, investigating, or assessing of workplace conditions before and after work has been completed on a job site.
The Six Foot Rule
It is an employer’s responsibility to assess the workplace for structural integrity and worker safety. It is also their job to determine whether or not fall protection will be needed. In order to help employers make this decision, Subpart M can be used to determine what precautions and steps should be taken. The six foot rule is one of the first guidelines Subpart M gives to aid employers and should be the first in determining whether or not use fall protection. This rule requires workers to use fall protection when working at heights of six feet or more above a lower level. It also applies to heights less that six feet when working near dangerous equipment. This could include equipment with exposed belts, gears or pulleys or open vats, acids and oils.
Types of Fall Protection
There are a variety of types of fall protection employers can use to keep workers safe. Each has a specific method of use in order to protect a worker while performing a specific task. A positioning device, used when working on formwork, is a great example of a specific safety tool used for specific purpose. Guardrail systems, safety nets and personal fall arrest systems are examples of more general use practices to cover a wide range of activities.
A guardrail system is a fence or railing put up to protect workers from falling to lower levels. Guardrails can be used around edges, holes, hoisting areas, ramps and runways and can be made of a variety of materials. There are many regulations for using guardrails safely or for specific situations. For a guardrail system to meet OSHA standards, requirements like: “Top rails must be 42 inches give or take three inches above the walking or working area,” must be taken into consideration. Be sure to check all OSHA guidelines before setting up a guardrail system.
SAFETY NET SYSTEMS
A safety net can vary from being one net to many interconnected nets providing fall coverage over a large surface area. Safety nets must be installed as close to the working or walking surface as possible and never be more than thirty feet below the working area. An important aspect of setting up a safety net, is providing adequate clearance underneath the net to prevent a falling worker from hitting the ground or other surface below the net. Drop testing on nets is required and helps make certain that the installations and nets themselves are safe for workers.
PERSONAL FALL ARREST SYSTEMS
A personal fall arrest system consists of an anchor, connectors and body harness and is used to catch or “arrest” a worker from falling to a lower level. Fall arrest systems can also contain lanyards, deceleration devices, and lifelines. A good way to remember the parts of this system is the “ABC’s of personal fall arrest systems. “A” for anchorages, “B” for body harness and “C” for components and connectors. Components used for personal fall arrest systems are: snap hooks that grab onto the lifelines keeping a worker connected, horizontal and vertical lifelines that keep a worker from falling and limit the free fall distance, self-retracting lifelines and lanyards, and anchorages used to attach a worker to the fall system. As with the above mentioned fall protection systems, please refer to OSHA’s official guidelines for more detailed information and requirements on personal fall arrest systems.
POSITIONING DEVICE SYSTEMS
Body harnesses, and belts that aid workers on elevated vertical surfaces allowing for both hands to be free are positioning device systems. Each belt should be set up so that it will not allow a worker to free fall more than two feet. Belts must also be connected to an anchor that can support twice the impact weight of a worker’s fall or 3,000 lbs.
WARNING LINE SYSTEMS
Warning line systems are barriers used on roofs when other types of fall protection like guardrails and safety nets, are not needed. Warning line systems can be created with ropes, wires, or chains and support frames. Warning lines must be set up six feet from the edges of the roof and be flagged with highly visible material for every six foot section.
SAFETY MONITORING SYSTEM
A safety monitoring system is a different type of fall protection relying on a separate person to monitor the safety of workers and warn them when they are close to a fall hazard. The safety monitor must be proficient in recognizing all types of potential fall hazards and cannot be distracted by other duties or operations.
When is fall protection needed?
Fall protection for construction workers is a life or death practice and should be used anytime a situation meets OSHA requirements. Some situations calling for fall protection are:
If a worker is constructing a leading edge six feet or more above a lower level they must be protected by guardrail systems, a safety net or personal fall arrest systems.
ROOFING WORK - STEEP SLOPES
When working on a steep roof, a slope greater than 4 in 12, that has one or more unprotected sides or edges six feet or more above lower levels, workers must have guardrails with toeboards, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems.
ROOFING WORK - LOW SLOPES
When working on a low sloped roof, a slope less than 4 in 12, that has one or more unprotected sides or edges six feet or more above lower levels, workers must have guardrail systems, safety nets, personal fall arrest systems, a combination of of conventional fall protection systems and warning line systems or a warning line system and a safety monitoring system.
Any construction where the end use of the structure will be used as a residence or where the structure is built using traditional wood frame construction materials is considered residential construction. General fall protection is needed for residential construction when a worker is six feet or more above lower levels and must be protected by a guardrail, safety net or personal fall arrest system.
Each worker in the hoist area must be protected from falling six feet or more by a guardrail system, or personal fall arrest system.
Each worker working near the hole or skylight must be protected from falling six feet or more by a guardrail, personal fall arrest system, net or cover. Also workers need to be protected from tripping or stepping into the hole by covers.
For more information and guidelines about each type of fall protection, please visit OSHA at: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3146.pdf
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