Fighting Workplace Falls
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan District
Falls are some of the most common and easily avoidable causes of injury in the workplace. So why do they continue to happen? The safety community is constantly trying to answer that question.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics indicate that incorrect use of fall-protection equipment, a lack of training and failure to respect heights all play a role in the number of fall-related incidents. For whatever reason, many workers have some misconceptions and prejudices about using fall protection. I'm sure you have heard someone say that wearing a harness and lanyard will only slow them down, get in the way or reduce productivity. In some cases, that may be true — but workers must consider what could happen if they actually did fall.
Fall hazards are everywhere in the workplace, and thousands of workers are seriously injured or killed in fall accidents every year. We’re all responsible to ensure our workplace is safe and free from hazards. We must take a proactive approach in eradicating these hazards and protect ourselves from the ones that can't be eliminated.
So what can you do to prevent yourself or one of your co-workers from getting hurt? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do we have fall hazards at our workplace?
- Do we have a fall protection program at work?
- Do we use a fall protection system (harness, lanyard, etc.)?
- Do we know when we are required to use fall protection?
- Do we need fall protection training?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you need to ensure you have a fall protection plan that is site-specific to your workplace. There are many ways employers can protect workers from falls, including, but not limited to, safety nets, horizontal lifelines, guardrails and personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), which may consist of a fall arrest system, positioning system and travel restraint systems. A PFAS is made up of three main elements — a safety harness, lanyard and anchor point.
Make sure you inspect your equipment before each use for any signs of damage. Knowing when to replace equipment is extremely important. If any of the three PFAS elements mentioned above are neglected, you might be looking for trouble! It’s a good idea to inspect equipment regularly, keeping in mind the old safety slogan, “If in doubt, throw it out.” Also, equipment should be stored in a cool, dry and safe area. Correct storage is a necessity.
OSHA has joined with the American Society of Safety Engineers and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to support a fall protection campaign that focuses on injuries and fatalities in the construction industry. The campaign aims to put a stop to falls and provides some great prevention information and training material on different types of falls. It can be found at https://stopconstructionfalls.com.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also raising awareness by providing all of its districts with a fall protection program guide with up-to-date regulations and standards. The USACE understands and recognizes the importance of having a current, site-specific fall protection program and ensuring all employees are aware and trained when it comes to fall protection. For more information, visit the USACE website at https://www.usace.army.mil/. Remember, the most important part of your job is that you do it safely and go home to your family at the end of your shift.
Did You Know?
Even if your job doesn’t require you to work from heights, you can help yourself and co-workers by following and sharing some of these simple and well-known safety tips:
General workplace safety
- Look out for fall hazards such as loose tile or carpets, broken railings and stair risers. If you see something, report it so it can be repaired.
- Make certain adequate lighting is provided.
- Keep workstations, passageways, exit routes and stairways free of clutter.
- If you spill something (water, oil, grease, etc.), clean it up or cordon off the area immediately and report it.
- Always use handrails when walking up or down stairs.
- Do not overload yourself with boxes, tools, etc. Make sure you can see over or around your load.
- Use the right ladder for the job.
- When you use an A-frame stepladder, ensure the brace is locked in place.
- Inspect the ladder for damage and hazards such as splinters and cracks.
- Never stand on the top step of a ladder.
- Always maintain three points of contact.
- Do not lean out from a ladder; keep your belt buckle between the ladder side rails.