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Fatalities caused by falls from elevation continue to be a leading cause of death for construction employees, accounting for 378 of the 986 construction fatalities recorded in 2021 (BLS data). To combat those statistics, here are five tips you can follow to protect your employees working at heights.

#1 Anticipate, plan, and prepare

To prevent falls, you have a duty to anticipate the need for employees to work at heights and plan those work activities accordingly. That’s because careful planning and preparation lay the groundwork for an accident-free jobsite, which includes protecting employees from falls.

#2 Understand fall protection needs

When an employee is working six feet or more above lower levels, OSHA has specific areas and operations where fall protection is required. Those areas/operations are:

  • Ramps,
  • Runways,
  • Walkways,
  • Excavations,
  • Hoist areas,
  • Holes,
  • Form and reinforcing steel work,
  • Leading edge work,
  • Unprotected sides and edges,
  • Overhand bricklaying and related work,
  • Roofing work,
  • Precast concrete erection,
  • Wall openings, and
  • Residential construction.

When working at any height above dangerous equipment, your employees must always be protected from falls.

#3 Perform a worksite assessment

Survey the worksite to determine if the walking/working surfaces have the strength and structural integrity to safely support employees. Then, make a reasonable effort to anticipate the hazards your employees may be exposed to during their work.

#4 Select the protection system

OSHA gives you eight options to protect employees from falls:

  1. Guardrail systems,
  2. Personal fall arrest systems,
  3. Positioning device systems,
  4. Safety net systems,
  5. Warning line systems,
  6. Controlled access zones,
  7. Safety monitoring systems, and
  8. Covers

One way to protect workers from falls is by using passive systems. These are guardrails, safety nets, personal fall arrest setups, positioning device systems, travel restraint systems, and covers. They’re passive since they don’t require the employee to do anything, other than know how to work around them.

Another way to prevent falls is to use administrative controls, like designated areas, putting up warning lines, or having safety monitors. Administrative controls require the employer or worker to do something. This can include training workers to understand not to cross warning lines and to obey the safety monitors.

#5 Provide employee training

OSHA requires you to provide a training program for each employee exposed to fall hazards. Train them to recognize the hazards of falling and the procedures to follow to minimize the hazards. Finally, prepare a written certification record that contains the name or other identity of the employee trained, the date(s) of the training, and the signature of the person who conducted the training (or the employer can sign it).

Key to remember

Careful planning and preparation for working at heights above six feet (or at any height above dangerous equipment) provides the best option to protect your employees. Review your fall protection procedures to ensure you’ve provided employees with the protection they need.