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FALL PROTECTION: OSHA GUIDANCE FOR ELEVATED FALL PREVENTION IN CONSTRUCTION

Falls are a dangerous work hazard, especially in construction. In fact, according to the CDC, in 2017 falls accounted for 366 out of 971 total construction fatalities! Fall protection for your workers is the responsibility of the employers. By understanding how falls occur, planning for your worker safety, as well as providing proper safety gear and training, you can take an active role in protecting your employees.

What is an elevated fall?

In general, a fall is defined as a slip or trip causing your body to collapse due to a quick shift in your center of gravity. There are two types of falls: same-level and elevated. Same-level falls occur when you trip and fall to the floor or against a wall but you don’t fall from one level to another. Elevated falls, however, are a fall from above or below the floor from an elevated place like a ladder, building rooftop, through a skylight, or off a scaffold.

This article will focus on preventing elevated falls in construction and will not go in-depth about single-level slips, trips, and falls.

Fall Prevention in Construction

Since falls and elevated falls are major hazards in construction, their rules on fall safety and protection are well-defined. Below is a general guide to the most frequently cited OSHA regulations for construction fall prevention.

Most Frequently Cited Fall Protection OSHA Standards

1926.501(b)(13) Fall Protection—Residential Construction

When employees are working in a residential construction environment higher than 6 feet above the ground or a lower level, they need to be protected by either a guardrail, safety net, or personal fall arrest system.

1926.501(b)(1) Fall Protection—Unprotected sides and edges

If an edge or side of a walking or working surface leads to a fall that is more than 6 feet above the ground or a lower level, you’ll need to prevent falling by using guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems.

1926.501 (b)(10) Fall Protection—Roofing work on low-slope roofs

Each employee on the roof needs fall protection if the ground or lower level is at least 6 feet down from the roof’s edge. Depending on the job’s needs, you can choose from a guardrail, safety net, personal fall arrest system. Also permitted are combinations of warning line systems and guardrails, safety nets, personal fall arrest systems, or safety monitoring systems.

1926.501 (b)(11) Fall Protection—Steep Roof

Since a steep roof is more treacherous to work on, unprotected sides should be protected with a guardrail that features toeboards, plus a safety net or personal fall arrest system.

1926.501 (b)(4)(i) Fall Protection—Skylights

From 2011-2016, over 160 workers died after falling through a skylight or a hole in a roof. Because of this, workers should be protected by a personal fall arrest system and when possible, a cover or guardrail should be installed on the skylight.

Additional Requirements

Scaffolding

Just like with unprotected roofs and other workspace edges, if scaffolding is more than six feet above the ground, guardrails should be installed. If an employee is using a float scaffold, needle beam scaffold, or ladder jack scaffold, they should also be protected by a personal fall arrest system. This is also true if they are using a single-point or two-point adjustable suspension scaffold.

Steel erection

Steel erection in construction often perches workers in precarious positions as they erect tall and narrow structures at various heights. This makes typical fall protection techniques impractical or impossible, as anchor points can be limited. In these scenarios, fall protection is required for unprotected edges more than 15 feet above a lower level.

Controlled decking zones (CDZ) are sometimes used instead of fall protection. These areas must be no more than 90 feet wide and deep from a leading edge and feature both clear boundaries and safety deck attachments. Within the CDZ, work can be performed without guardrails, fall restraints, or other safety systems but access to the area must be strictly controlled.

Stairs & Ladders

Fixed and portable ladders both must be well-constructed and frequently inspected for safety. Fixed ladders that are longer than 20 feet must feature either a fall protection system like a self-retracting lifeline, cage, or ladder safety device or they are required to feature a landing every 30 feet.

Stairs are a common site for accidental slips and falls, so whether they are temporary or not, they must feature handrails. If the stairs are temporary, they must be properly maintained and dismantled at the end of construction work.

Training

In order for your workers to keep safety in mind and practice good fall prevention techniques, they need proper training. Employers need to train their workers to set up and utilize fall protection equipment safely and effectively, as well as how to recognize fall hazards and situations where fall protection would be required.

Fall Protection Systems

In each of the commonly cited OSHA standards and requirements, fall protection systems were heavily mentioned. These systems are crucial for protecting employees from dangerous and sometimes fatal falls when working from heights.

Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS)

Personal fall arrest utilizes a fall protection harness, anchor, and connector to catch an employee in the event of a fall and keep the forces of deceleration at a safe level.  These systems are secured to a sturdy structure through the anchor, with the connectors commonly consisting of shock-absorbing lanyards or self-retracting lifelines attached to a body harness that distributes the fall forces throughout the body.

Fall Restraint Systems

These systems tend to be preferred by workers yet are barely mentioned in OSHA fall protection regulations. Fall restraint systems also often use a harness and connector setup, however, these systems are meant to entirely prevent a fall instead of simply catching a worker if they slip over an edge. A fall restraint system features a lead that simply does not extend far enough for a worker to be able to fall over an edge, allowing them to work safely without fear of drops.

Safety Net Systems

Safety net systems are a passive form of fall protection often installed to prevent falls by covering a potential hazard as a barrier or in a setup that will catch a worker in the event of a fall to protect them from hitting lower surfaces.

Safety nets can also be used to catch debris from construction, like bricks, wood, nails, or tools that could injure workers or bystanders below a construction site.

Guardrail Systems

Guardrails can be either temporary or permanent and are highly regulated by OSHA both in construction and for general workplace safety. Guardrails are excellent forms of fall protection because they give a visual cue that a dangerous drop is over the edge they are featured on; they provide a physical barrier between people and the fall hazard; and they can act as fall protection in areas where a cover or wall are not feasible.

While they appear similar, guardrails should not be confused for handrails. Their difference is distinct. Guardrails are used for fall protection, while handrails are used for individuals to support themselves while navigating a stairway or surface.

To protect workers and other individuals from fall hazards, a guardrail must be strongly built with posts positioned evenly to avoid people from falling through the gaps. They must also be tall enough to avoid topples over the top and extend far enough to cover the entire edge. Finally, guardrails can be made from metal or wood, but they should be smooth and not splinter or cut skin or cause clothing snags.

How to Protect Your Workers from Elevated Falls

Elevated falls are a leading cause of death for construction employees. These deaths are almost always preventable with proper planning, equipment, and training.

Plan for safety

Before elevated work ever begins, it is the responsibility of the employer to plan for how it will be completed safely. This process should begin as early as the estimation phase, where safety equipment and tools should be considered and budgeted into the construction estimate.

Provide the right equipment

It is the employers’ responsibility to provide the right fall protection and other personal protection equipment to employees so that they can conduct their work safely. Not only must this equipment be provided, but it also must be regularly inspected for fit and quality.

Train your workers

Fall arrest systems and other protective gear are only effective if your workers understand when, how, and why to use them. Robust and frequent training in fall protection for various scenarios that your workers may encounter can help keep them safe and able to spot hazards competently while performing their duties.

Fall protection is an important part of construction site safety. Elevated falls are almost always preventable, so it’s crucial we put a spotlight on this safety topic to ensure workers can perform their duties without unnecessary risks.

Fall Protection Awareness

Consider getting involved with OSHA’s annual National Safety Stand-Down by hosting events to talk to your employees about fall hazards and reinforce safety policies. This event is also a great opportunity to allow your employees to speak directly to company management about their safety concerns in an open and constructive dialog.

If you’re interested in material for a National Safety Stand-Down refresher event or need resources to properly train your employees on the importance of fall hazard safety, NSC can help. We offer several different ways to train your employees on fall hazards and fall protection. Our training kits include everything you need to hold a successful training session, including video lessons, lecture presentations, and printable handouts.

Our Fall Protection training course is available on USB/DVD, instant digital access, or as a self-led online course.

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How to Prepare for National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week

On average, there are more than 100 worker fatalities per week (or approximately 14 deaths each day) in the United States according to 2018 data. Out of the total number of worker fatalities, more than 20% (or one in five deaths) are from the construction industry.

So, what is the leading cause behind construction-related work fatalities? If you guessed falls, you are correct. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls from elevation accounted for 320 of the 1,008 construction fatalities in 2018. Behind falls, being struck by an object, electrocuted, or caught in or between equipment, objects or materials are additional top factors. Together, these leading causes are what is known in the construction industry as the “Fatal Four.”

Because falls are the most hazardous element of the construction industry, each year the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in partnership with additional safety organizations host the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction.

What is the Background on National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction?

National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction was first introduced on Workers Memorial Day in 2012 in remembrance of those who have been killed or injured by their job. The voluntary event was originally planned to continue annually for two years with the goal of raising awareness of fall fatalities and injuries along with reducing the risk of these preventable accidents.

However, due to the massive success of National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, it has since become an annual event that occurs each May surrounding the launch of construction’s busy season. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s seventh annual event was rescheduled to Monday, Sept. 14 – Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. Now, more than 150 public events are held each year across the 50 states as well as internationally. Since its introduction six years ago, OSHA’s fall prevention Stand-Down events have reached more than 10 million industry workers.

Who Can Participate in a Stand-Down Event?

Construction is the number one at-risk industry for falls while on the job, however, there are many others that can and should participate in a Stand-Down event. For example, additional industries such as manufacturing, transportation and agriculture regularly require employees to work from elevated heights. OSHA encourages any company that is potentially impacted by falls to host a Stand-Down event. In the past, OSHA has seen a wide variety of participants including construction companies, contractors, the U.S. Military, unions, trade associations, safety equipment manufacturers and many more.

Additionally, a Stand-Down event can be held no matter the size of your company, with approximately half hosted by small businesses with 25 employees or less. In fact, small business participation is particularly important. According to data from the Center for Construction Research and Training, 61% of fatal falls in construction happened in companies with 10 employees or fewer between 2011-2015.

Fall Protection Safety is a team effort.

What Are Common Examples of Stand-Down Events?

There are a myriad of ways to conduct a Stand-Down event, and employers are encouraged to consider what will work best to fit their particular needs. You may choose to host one event, or provide ongoing training throughout the week of Sept. 14-18. In light of COVID-19, OSHA asks employers to ensure that events are held while practicing safe social distancing in small groups or even virtually.

Here are some popular examples on how to host a Stand-Down event:

  • Conduct a safety demonstration on fall protection equipment.
  • Host a toolbox talk (or informal group discussion) on fall-related hazards.
  • Hold a training session on your company’s safety policies, goals and expectations.
  • Lead a safety inspection with employees.
  • Develop a rescue plan.
  • Show a safety video.

How Do I Prepare for a Stand-Down Event?

OSHA provides step-by-step instructions to help you prepare for a successful event, which include:

  • Start early and designate a Stand-Down coordinator to organize your event(s).
  • In addition to jobsite workers, invite all relevant stakeholders involved in your business to participate (for example, subcontractors, architects and engineers).
  • Review your current fall prevention efforts. Consider what falls could happen, what training and equipment you have already provided, and what areas could use improvement.
  • Decide what type of event will work best for your particular needs, whether it be a presentation, video or hands-on activity. Tip: hands-on activities such as a jobsite inspection or safety equipment check can help with employees’ retention of the information.
  • Choose when and for how long to hold your event, such as during a break, lunch or scheduling another designated time. Events can range from as simple as 15 minutes to several hours over the course of the week depending on your preference and needs.
  • Promote your Stand-Down event to employees in the medium they prefer to receive information (for instance, in-person, via email or through flyers). Tip: offering snacks has shown to increase event participation. You can also submit your free public event to be featured on OSHA’s website and see what other events are happening in your area.
  • Hold your event and create a positive, safe space for employees to engage by asking questions and offering suggestions along the way.
  • Finally, implement learnings from your Stand-Down event into your current policies and procedures to make your work environment even safer moving forward.

What Materials Are Available to Help With My Stand-Down Event?

Since our founding in 1999, National Safety Compliance has been committed to providing affordable, reliable and effective training products for American workers—including fall safety. Designed to help employers comply with OSHA regulations, our safety training programs can help companies reduce workplace accidents.

With plenty of easy-to-use, cost-effective options, we have a variety of resources to assist with your Stand-Down event, such as:

  • Fall Protection Safety Trainings: Easily train new employees or provide a refresher with a host of digital tools including a 26-minute fall protection safety video, PowerPoint presentation, employee quiz and additional materials. You can purchase digital access to the training with flexible rental options of 7 days, 30 days or 1 year. Additionally, digital access in a Spanish version is available. Or, purchase a Fall Protection Training video kit on USB or DVD that provides the same materials in a DVD or USB format that is also presented in an English or Spanish option.
  • Fall Protection Training Booklets: This 16-page booklet serves as a complementary resource to our training program. For example, it covers topics such as safety nets, covers, safety monitor systems, falling object hazards and more.

Additionally, OSHA offers a host of resources to assist with your Stand-Down event. Assets include the following in a variety of languages such as English, Spanish, Russian and Portuguese:

  • Posters
  • Fact Sheets
  • Stickers
  • Cards
  • Infographics
  • Quizzes
  • Lesson Plans
  • Videos

What Do I Do After My Stand-Down Event?

Participants are encouraged to share their Stand-Down events with #StandDown4Safety on social media. After completing your Stand-Down event, employers can download a certificate of recognition from the U.S. Department of Labor to acknowledge the time and effort spent improving fall safety within their company. The page to download your certificate will become active beginning Sept. 14 on OSHA’s website.

Want More Information?

If you would like additional information on this year’s National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, visit the FAQ page. If you have questions or need assistance on how National Safety Compliance’s fall protection products can help with your Stand-Down event, contact us by emailing sales@nscemail.com, calling 877-922-7233, commenting below, or using our simple chat function on our website.

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Occupational Fatalities in 2018

– The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Report, released today, shows the rate of fatal work injuries remained unchanged in 2018.

Tragically, unintentional overdoses at work increased by 12 percent—the sixth consecutive annual increase and a reflection of the broader opioid crisis that our nation is facing. To combat this problem, President Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a National Health Emergency.  OSHA also teamed with the National Safety Council on the release of a toolkit to help employers address opioid abuse in their workplaces and support workers in recovery.

Suicide at work, which increased by 11 percent in 2018, is also a tragic public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on families, workplaces, and communities. OSHA created a new webpage with free and confidential resources to help identify the warning signs of suicide and to help users know who and how to call for help.

Today’s report also showed a 14 percent decline in work-related fatal falls from heights, the lowest total since 2013. Enforcement efforts helped abate more than 7,000 fall-related hazards in the construction industry.

“OSHA will continue to use BLS data for enforcement targeting within its jurisdiction to help prevent tragedies,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “Inspections for OSHA were up, and we will work with state plans so employers and workers can find compliance assistance tools in many forms or call the agency to report unsafe working conditions. Any fatality is one too many.”

Employers who need assistance in meeting their safety obligations can take advantage of OSHA’s no-cost and confidential On-Site Consultation Program. OSHA Training Institute Education Centers (OTIs) also provide training to workers, employers, and other safety professionals across the nation.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education, and assistance. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.

The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

Trade Release

U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Office of Communications
Washington, D.C.
www.osha.gov
For Immediate Release
December 17, 2019
Contact: Office of Communications
Phone: 202-693-1999
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Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards

This past September the top 10 most frequently citedFall Protection Safety Training
workplace safety violations for fiscal year 2019 were released by OSHA. It is common knowledge that the rankings for the top 10 generally do not vary much from year to year. This does not mean the list is irrelevant or unimportant.

Each violation that occurred is a reminder of the hazards employees face on a daily basis when they clock in for work. And each violation that occurred most likely resulted in an injury of some type, maybe even death! The list serves as a reminder there is still work to be done to ensure the safety of all U.S. workers. As you read through the list, let it ignite a desire to expect better and to be proactive where safety is concerned as a company, as an employer, and as an employee.

OSHA’s Top 10 most cited workplace safety violations

Fall Protection (1926.501) leads the list again for the
ninth consecutive year with over 6,000 violations. Moving up a spot is
Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) from number five last year to number four. It
switched places with Respiratory Protection (1910.134) which is down to number
five. Here is the complete list:

  1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501) with 6,010 violations
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200) with 3,671 violations
  3. Scaffolding (1926.451) with 2,813 violations
  4. Lockout / Tagout (1910.147) with 2,606 violations
  5. Respiratory Protection (1910.134) with 2,450 violations
  6. Ladders (1926.1053) with 2,345 violations
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178) with 2,093 violations
  8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503) with 1,773 violations
  9. Machine Guarding (1910.212) with 1,743 violations
  10. PPE Eye and Face Protection (1926.102) with 1,411 violations

As responsible employers, we must do our best to ensure the safety and health of our employees. Keep these topics in mind as you think through your safety training schedule for 2020. How can you mitigate risks? How can you ensure your employees understand the material?