Serious Fall Protection For Contractors

Is Falling Really That Big Of An Issue?

Why does OSHA dedicate so much time and energy to Fall Protection? The answer is simple but alarming. Falls continue to be the leading cause of death in construction.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 350 fatal falls to a lower level out of the 937 total construction fatalities recorded in 2015. And since some contractors haven’t adequately addressed these hazards, inspectors issued more than 7,500 citations for violations of two regulations: Fall Protection and Fall Protection – Training Requirements, 1926.503. Fall protection citations topped the 2017 Top Ten list of most-cited OSHA standards.

For this reason, OSHA and various partners, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Occupational Research Agenda, OSHA approved State Plans, State consultation programs, and the National Safety Council, work together to encourage those in the industry to refocus efforts on jobsite safety by identifying fall hazards and recognizing the importance of fall prevention.

Step up and take action now

Every day, concrete workers are at risk from falls on jobsites. And these risks lurk in every phase of concrete construction. OSHA suggests that any person working at six feet or more above lower levels is at risk for serious injury or death from falling, so they require employers to provide fall protection and the right equipment for the task to protect these workers. 

There are three common jobsite conditions in the concrete industry where workers can be exposed to potential fall hazards:

1. Standing firm for foundation safety

Seven years ago, OSHA revised the regulations to require stricter standards for fall protection safety in residential construction. Concrete contractors responded by taking a harder look at safe access when working on below-grade foundations. These worksites are often full of potential hazards such as wet conditions, unstable ground and elevated work stations.

The Concrete Foundation Association (CFA) offers resources to help members develop a thorough fall protection safety training program. The kit outlines the challenge of the preparation, education, and maintenance necessary to protect members’ number one capital investment – their people.

CFA’s Executive Director Jim Baty says,

“our kit explains the OSHA regulations found in 1926.501. Specifically, CFA developed the kit to provide relevant OSHA regulations, letters of interpretation, example plans, a draft plan framework, educational presentations, and research so that a contractor can develop a fully compliant plan more quickly.”

2. Bridging the gaps in fall protection

One of the most hazardous worksites for concrete contractors is a bridge project – where the pace of work is fast and getting faster. On many projects, post-tensioned element forms are positioned every 24 hours.

The Federal Highway Administration focuses specifically on fall protection on its projects, which include most, if not all, bridge projects. Contractors are required to provide personal fall arrest systems (PFASs) for their employees. These systems include a harness for each worker who needs to tie off to the anchor. Contractors must make sure the PFASs fit, and regularly inspect them for safe use.

During the installation of bridge deck forms (either wood or stay-in-place [SIP] corrugated metal), all workers must be protected from falls six feet or greater in height by means of PFASs, safety nets, guardrail systems, or other means meeting the requirements of Part 1926 Subpart M. If the contractor can demonstrate that using one of the conventional fall protection systems described in Subpart M would create a greater safety hazard or is infeasible (e.g., impossible to construct or would prevent the performance of the required work), an alternate system may be used. The contractor must develop and implement a written fall protection plan meeting the requirements of 1926.502.

When structural elements are initially connected, workers exposed to moving members are required to tie off only if they are not exposed to a greater risk from the moving member. “Initial connection” is defined as that period during placement or removal of structural members when the member is supported by a crane or other lifting device.

Because falls from structural members are a serious and clearly recognizable hazard, fall protection for all steel or concrete beams and other structural elements must be in place prior to erection. This provides fall protection for workers involved in the initial erection and in subsequent operations until the deck forms are in place. This fall protection must consist of PFASs, safety nets, or other means meeting the requirements of Part 1926 Subpart M.

3. Using aerial work platforms safely

Concrete contractors are increasing their use of Aerial Work Platforms (AWPs) on projects. AWPs make it possible to install anchors, apply repair materials and perform testing on existing and new structures.

The primary fall protection system on AWPs is the guardrails that surround the platform. Where needed, secondary systems may be required by the manufacturer. Some secondary systems such as restraining harnesses and lanyards on boom lifts are now mandatory.

OSHA regulation 1926.502(d) (16) (iii) requires that anchorages “be rigged such that an employee can neither free fall more than 6 feet, nor contact any lower level.” Other fall protection measures, over and above mandatory requirements, must be assessed and selected by a qualified person. Hazards should be identified and appropriate fall protection equipment should be selected, with the understanding that OSHA regulations will establish the minimum level of protection.

Hazard

Risk

Control Measure

Boom lift struck by another vehicle

Climbing on platform mid-rail

Over reaching

Uneven ground

Ejection from platform

Loss of balance causing fall

Loss of balance causing fall

Ejection from platform

Restrict work area around base

Training and fall restraint

Training and fall restraint

Training and fall restraint

The table above provides examples of the site assessment process when using AWPs. NOTE: This is not an all-inclusive list. It’s an example assessment list demonstrating the required analysis of a job-specific hazard so an assessment can be performed by a qualified person.


3M’s “Thinking About Fall Protection” is an eleven-part educational video series designed to give an overview of the basics of fall protection. The series covers the ABCD’s of fall protection, at-heights fundamentals, fall clearance calculations, and types of falls and hazards.

The video series is not a substitute for certified fall protection training, but does provide an excellent introduction to the topic.

2 Comments
  1. D.E.Haughton says

    Shock absorbing lanyards are tricky. More detail discussion would be helpful. Checking Harnesses, Yo-yo’s, or self retractable safety lines. The illustration is very helpful. While in the field selecting the correct safety line make the difference of going home or having leg injuries. Thank you for the information and update.

    1. Randy Hall says

      Thanks for your input! Great suggestions. We’ll dig a little deeper in those areas in a future article.

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