Even in the safest workplaces, accidents happen. Slips, trips, and falls account for over one-third of all workplace injuries across all industries. Fortunately, these types of injuries are also some of the most preventable — if you have the right procedures and fall protection gear in place.
Fall protection is mandated when workers are exposed to different heights, which vary by industry:
General workplaces: Four feet
Shipyards: Five feet
Construction: Six feet
Longshoring operations: Eight feet
When working above dangerous machinery: Always, regardless of potential fall distance
And this isn’t just in reference to people working above ground: even workers at ground level are at risk when floor openings are present.
There are many different types of fall protection equipment, both temporary and permanent, that can keep workers safe in these scenarios. Here’s a rundown of the main types of fall protection used today, along with some resources for learning more about each.
Workers use scaffolding to temporarily get access to buildings or machines for construction, repair, or maintenance. These temporary platforms feature planks of different lengths and widths designed to hold both workers and materials.
There are a number of OSHA regulations for scaffolds to help ensure they’re strong and stable enough to support workers and materials. Here are the highlights:
Scaffolds must support their own weight and at least 4 times the maximum load that will be applied to it.
Platforms must be at least 18 inches wide, and they must include guardrails or fall arrest systems for workers.
Space between platforms and uprights can’t be more than one inch wide
Both supported and suspended scaffolds have their own unique requirements.
Shore and lean-to scaffolds are prohibited.
For scaffolds 10 feet or higher, workers are required to use fall protection equipment like a personal fall arrest system or a guardrail system.
Other Types of Fall Protection
For some jobs, like window washing or HVAC repair, it would be unreasonable to build scaffolding to protect workers at elevation. There are a number of other types of fall protection gear, including:
Guardrails. Guardrails can be temporary or permanent, but both keep workers away from dangerous edges or holes.
Fall arrest system. A fall arrest system stops a fall, and consists of a body harness, anchor, and a lifeline connecting the two. A fall restriction system is similar, but often includes another component, like a bosun’s chair, that serves as a work positioning system.
Travel-restraint system. These systems keep workers from getting too close to an unprotected edge. In a travel-restraint system, a worker is attached to a body harness, which connects to a lanyard that may move freely along an anchored line — keeping the worker in the safe zone.
Best Practices for Keeping Workers Safe
Regardless of your industry, there are a number of measures you can take to prevent slips and trips — whether your workers are routinely high above the ground (or not). They are:
Keep work areas clean, dry, and free of debris.
Use railings, floor covers, and toe boards to prevent workers from falling into holes.
Install guardrails and toe boards against open-sided platforms.
Ensure rooftop safety by using temporary or permanent guardrails and anchors for personal fall protection.