As you probably know, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cracked down on fall protection standards in 2016 to try and lessen the ever-growing number of fall hazards, injuries and deaths in the workplace. While this is a great development for workplace safety, many businesses have had a hard time halting their day-to-day operations to dissect these OSHA standards and integrate them into their workplace environment. So, let’s talk about the OSHA standards and how they affect your business.
Before we talk about OSHA’s standards, we should probably discuss why they are even needed. It may seem fairly obvious why fall protection in the workplace is important — you don’t want your workers to fall and hurt themselves. However, many are not aware of just how pervasive fall hazards are. The hard truth is that, in 2017, 887 workers died from falls. In fact, fall hazards are among the most common causes of work-related injuries and deaths.
To minimize the number of fall-related deaths and injuries, it’s very important that you take OSHA’s standards seriously, especially if you use aerial equipment, such as a man up turret truck, a scissor lift or an aerial work platform. Even if implementing these standards seems like overkill, it’s better to risk having an overly safe workplace instead of a hazardously unsafe one. It’s important to cover your bases and know which standards apply to your industry and equipment so that you can make your workplace as safe as possible. For instance, the OSHA standards that apply to aerial equipment are: 29 CFR 1910.67; 29 CFR 1910.269 (p); 29 CFR 1926.21; 29 CFR 1926.453; and 29 CFR 1926.502. By understanding your workplace’s equipment and assessing your safety hazards, you can make use of the specific OSHA standards as they apply to your workplace.
So, what are some specific ways that you can protect your employees from fall hazards? The first step is fall prevention, also known as “engineering out the hazard.” This involves accommodating the workplace using safety barriers and devices that eliminate or decrease the potential for falls altogether. Here are some of the ways that you can engineer the hazard out of your workplace:
These are systems that act as a barrier to prevent workers from falling off of edges or into holes in the workplace. These are typically made up of upright supports, which are attached to the work surface; a horizontal top rail that is connected to the supports and can act as a handhold for workers; a mid rail running parallel to the top rail; and toe boards to prevent objects from falling from the upper work areas onto workers below. These are typically used on surfaces such as rooftops, platforms, balconies, catwalks and mobile work surfaces.
There are also various types of guardrail systems that can fit to a specific working environment. Temporary guardrails are put in place in areas that are not intended as a permanent work area or while permanent guardrails are being installed; stair rails are vertical barriers that run along the unprotected edge of a stair way to prevent workers from falling; and handrails work to provide a structure for workers to grab to prevent themselves from falling.
Holes are sometimes present in elevated workspaces through which to hoist materials or as a permanent fixture in the workspace. Though holes can be useful, they are also hazardous to the safety of workers. To prevent workers from accidentally falling through holes, protective covers can be placed over the hole until it is needed for use.
Covers for holes in the workspace are often constructed using reusable materials, such as plywood and steel plates. However, according to OSHA standards, hole coverings must meet certain standards. For instance, they need to be large enough to overlap well past the edges of the hole, and they must be made with a material that is strong enough to support two times the anticipated weight of the heaviest load.
In a perfect world, fall prevention systems would be flawless, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Sometimes fall prevention fails or cannot be installed in a workspace, and that’s where fall arrest systems come in. There are a number of ways to ensure your workers’ safety in the unfortunate instance that they do fall, such as:
Safety Net Systems
These are nets that are implemented when workers are working at elevated heights with hazardous vertical drops, such as when working on bridges and large structures. These are available in a number of sizes and types of material, including material that is resistant to ultraviolet deterioration.
A lanyard is a flexible rope or strap that is attached to your workers via a harness or body belt. This lanyard is then connected to a deceleration device, such as a lifeline or anchorage point. That way, if the worker loses their footing and falls, the lanyard will minimize the potential for injury.
One big change from the 2016 OSHA standards is that documented fall hazard risk assessments are now required in all workplaces. In instances where workers are exposed to fall hazards, they will need to be provided with personal protective equipment and be properly trained in safety practices. Additionally, if any employee is observed using improper safety techniques when operating equipment, OSHA now requires that they be retrained before being allowed to continue operating said equipment.
We know, all of these rules and standards can be hard to keep up with. We hope that this blog has given you some helpful tools for navigating OSHA’s safety standards, but your resources don’t stop here. By visiting or , you can find all the answers to your additional questions and find the best possible equipment for your fall protection needs.