SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Fall Protection Program
This month I would like to talk about fall prevention and
protection. OSHA classifies facility workers as both general
industry and construction workers and as such all
employees must be trained in both set of OSHA regulations.
Protecting employees from falls is a major concern for
responsible employers in all types of work settings. From general
industry to construction, falls account for a large number
of injuries and deaths. In private industry for example, out of
5,270 fatalities, 14.6 percent were fall-related, according to
the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The safety profession recognizes
the obvious hazards associated with falls as does the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Several portions of the 1910 general industry standards, along
with Subpart M of the construction safety standards, address
the requirements of protecting employees from the hazards
associated with falls.
For the safety professional, problems encountered on
worksites usually revolve around the fact that employees
aren't trained and the proper fall protection systems are not
available. Another area of concern is providing fall protection
when the methods mentioned in the standard (personal fall
arrest, guardrails, safety nets) are not feasible. It is this area
of fall protection where I teach fall protection to students at
two of the leading OSHA Training Institute Educational
To put it simply, employers are required to protect employees
from falling from heights in excess of 4 feet within the
industry standards and 6 feet in the construction standards.
Exceptions to the 4- foot and 6-foot heights are falls from
scaffolds, steel that is being erected, and falls where impalement
hazards or machinery is being run directly underneath
employees. Impalement hazards and machinery require
employers to guard the entire area or prevent employees
from coming into contact with those hazards. Employers have
options within the standards to protect their employees.
Options mentioned include guardrail systems, personal fall
arrest systems (safety harnesses) and safety net systems.
These are addressed in the particular standard and are fairly
When a guardrail or other protective systems cannot be
used, the employee is required to wear fall protection. This
equipment must meet ANSI Z359 and ANZI A-10 safety standards.
As a matter of record, your fall protection program
must also meet ANSI Z359.2 standards. This standard
describes the minimum safety requirements for a fall protection
Elevated work situations are a necessary part of many construction
and maintenance projects. Such environments carry
a significant potential for serious injury or death from falling,
which is why proper fall protection is a critical component of
safety programs for those projects.
Unfortunately, proper fall protection and the correct use of
personal protective equipment are not always well-understood,
creating both a false sense of security and the very
real prospect of danger. A worker may believe they are safe
because they are wearing a high-quality lanyard and has connected
it to part of the structure. However, that's not always
Identifying Safe Anchorage Points
Personal fall-protection equipment cannot help a worker if
it is used improperly, and one of the most common misuses
is failing to tie off to safe anchorage points. Just because
something is attached to the structure or is made of steel
does not ensure that it provides a safe anchorage.
OSHA mandates that anchorage points be able to withstand
5,000 pounds of force. A simple rule of thumb is that if you
wouldn't be comfortable hooking your car or truck to an anchorage
point, you probably shouldn't hook yourself to it. When
choosing an anchorage point, it's also important to consider
whether more than one worker will be tied to it at the same time
because that will affect the maximum force.
Many times when I teach fall prevention, my students ask
“what does a 5,000 pound anchorage look like?” Picture a
GMC Suburban hanging in the air. If the anchorage can hold
the Suburban, it can hold you. If not, do not use it to tie off to.
The best way to identify safe anchorage points is to do it before
you need them. Before the project begins, identify and mark
spots that will provide safe anchorage when needed. Consider
the highest possible tie-off locations and where staff will be working
in relation to the anchorage points. That way, workers won't
have to guess where they should tie off, and they're less likely to
tie off to a site that can't safely support them.
Location is Just as Important
When manufacturers test products such as retractable or
shock-absorbing lanyards, they usually do so in a vertical situation.
The fall distance is generally determined by measuring
from the anchorage point, along the length to which the lanyard
will stretch out, plus the length of the body. When computing
the fall distance, it's a good idea to add a safety factor of an
additional three feet to allow for problems with the equipment,
miscalculating the distance or an unusually tall worker. The harness
should be tight, and freefall distance should be minimized,
because this will reduce recoil and stretch, and the forces they
place on the body.
Horizontal aspects also need to be considered, because a fall
may produce a pendulum effect, in which a suspended worker
swings back and forth - sometimes into other workers, the structure,
moving equipment or hot work. That's why most manufacturers
recommend no more than a 30 percent offset from the
anchorage point to the body position.
Another situation that sometimes occurs is when a worker
will be performing tasks at multiple locations on a roof or
open floor area and chooses a 50-foot retractable lanyard for
convenience, believing that once it's secured, he can move
anywhere in that range. However, if he stretches the lanyard
out horizontally and falls over the edge, he'll fall the full distance
before the safety clutches can kick in. The ground or
another surface may stop him before his protective equipment
has the chance.
Develop a Rescue Plan
Suppose a worker slips off the edge and his fall protection
equipment works flawlessly. He's safe, right? Not necessarily.
If he's suspended in the air, you'll generally have less than five
minutes to bring him down before he can begin to lose circulation
in his legs and even develop blood clots. If the pressure
is relieved too quickly, the sudden rush of blood through the
circulatory system can lead to other problems. Given that,
you probably can't afford to wait the five or ten minutes it will
take the local authorities to respond to your site and assess
That's why it's so important to develop your own rescue plan
for all of the elevated aspects of your project before work begins.
The plan should address how you'll recover workers who are conscious
and what type of equipment on the site - such as vertical
lifts, manlifts, or ladders - are available. It should also include
training for employees in the area.
If workers don't know the proper rescue procedures, they
may complicate the situation. For example, a worker who
reaches down to grab the lanyard and pull his co-worker to
safety can easily injure himself, creating a need for two elevated
rescues. If the suspended worker is unconscious or has
significant injuries, pulling him up may worsen his condition
and make it more difficult for the rescue team to provide
Knowledge is the best protection, workers who assume that
fall protection is as simple as tying off to what looks like a
safe anchorage can become complacent about safety, as can
supervisors who think things are great as long as everyone
has the right equipment. In both cases, they're wrong.
Companies that want to protect workers from falls need to
place a high priority on training everyone involved. In addition
to proper identification of anchorage points and use of
equipment, that training should ensure that everyone knows
what to do when a mishap occurs. That knowledge makes the
difference between having only a perception of safety and
achieving effective protection.
For more information on fall protection, visit my website at
www.podojilconsulting.com or if you would like to have weekly
newsletters to help keep you informed, email me and I will
add you to our mailing list.
For more information, click on the author biography at the top of the page.