A worker painting an electric maintenance tower comes in contact with an energized power line and falls 70 feet – striking a second employee working on a lower level and causing him to fall as well. The first man dies. The second survives, but suffers serious injuries. Neither was provided with functional fall equipment by his employer.
This incident is just one of many in OSHA’s case files that illustrate why the agency takes its fall protections standards so seriously – and why they were the most-cited in 2015. Falls are common and, too often, fatal. They are the top cause of work-related deaths in the construction industry, and occur frequently in other industries as well.
Focus on construction industry
Violations of OSHA’s Standard 1926.501: Duty to have fall protection1, resulted in a total $23,877,357 in penalties in 2015, based on 7,308 citations from 7,005 inspections. Compliance efforts focused heavily on the construction industry, which was the focus of 6,837 inspections and received 7,133 citations amounting to $23,110,749.
There’s a considerable gap between construction and the second-most cited industry. Wholesale trade garnered 49 citations from 48 inspections, with $155,148 in fines. The top tier of manufacturing had 34 citations from 34 inspections, for a total of $91,592 in penalties. Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services worksites had 15 inspections, received 18 citations and were fined $319,690.
In general, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry and eight feet in longshoring operations.
Standard 1926.501 specifies the types of fall protection that must be provided across a wide range of work areas, from unprotected sides and edges on walking/working surfaces to hoist areas, skylights, ramps, runways, steel structures and steep roofs. Fall protection may take the form of guardrails, safety nets or personal fall arrest systems.
If an employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems (in a particular workplace situation), it can develop and implement a fall protection plan which meets the requirements of the standard.
Plan, provide & train
OSHA has an ongoing campaign2 to prevent occupational falls through three simple steps: 1) plan, 2) provide and 3) train.
1) Employers must plan projects by deciding how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved, and what safety equipment will be needed to complete each task. Safety equipment should be included when estimating the cost of a job.
2) Employers must provide those who work at six feet or more above lower levels fall protection and the right equipment for the job, including the task-appropriate ladders, scaffolds, and safety gear. Fall protection equipment should be regularly inspected to ensure it’s in good condition.
3) Employers must train workers in hazard recognition and in the care and safe use ladders, scaffolds, fall protection systems, and other equipment they’ll be using on the job.