Fall protection … a topic that can include everything from handrails to fall arrest systems. Taking that into consideration, you can see the challenges of performing effective fall protection training.

What is the last injury at your workplace that was caused by a fall? It might have been as simple as a trip or maybe an incident on a flight of stairs. Hopefully it wasn’t something as tragic as a fall down an elevator shaft.

All of these items relate to fall protection, but fall protection can be divided into three areas: slips and trips, barriers and elevated work practices.

The six-feet rule

OSHA designates six feet as the level requiring fall protection, or at any height when exposed to hazards such as open chemical tanks or machinery.

If you are standing on the third step of a ladder and fall, you have the chance of being injured, but for the most part you’ll probably catch yourself and not be hurt. On the other hand, if you stand on the sixth step of a ladder, which puts you at six feet, and you fall, there’s a really good chance you’ll be injured. As you get higher, the chance of injury increases.

The first defense against falls is to eliminate the hazard. If the hazard cannot be eliminated, use guarding such as a handrail. If that isn’t practical, fall arrest systems must be used.

Take a walk through your workplace. Look for areas where employees have to work above six feet. They aren’t always that obvious.

I was a production manager at a plastics plant. The line operator had to open a valve at the top of a vessel when the line was shut down for repairs. This occurred about once every two weeks. The valve was ten feet above the floor. The operator would climb up on the side of the vessel stepping on the framework and one of the lower valves. One day, the operator slipped and fell to the concrete floor striking his head. He received a minor concussion, but from that height it could have been much worse.

After investigating the injury, it was easy to see that a permanent set of steps was needed for this task. The sad part is that we hadn’t identified this hazard before the injury occurred.

Eliminating hazards

Housekeeping is the first defense against falls. Keeping walkways and stairs clear is basic fall protection. Looking at slips and trips from a behavioral view, the safe behavior would be “eyes on path.” When a person is watching where they are walking, the chances of a fall are minimal.

Handrails are another practical way to protect from falls. Be aware that handrails need to be constructed to meet OSHA standards.

Floor openings need to be covered or a handrail has to be in place. Note: Caution tape is not fall protection, and hole coverings must be weight-bearing. A good rule for a hole cover is that it should be able to hold three times any load that may be placed on it.

Fall hazards vary according to department. A production worker who does the same tasks repeatedly will likely be able to identify when fall protection is needed, and that need will always be the same. On the other hand, a maintenance worker may do several different tasks each day and will need to have a greater awareness of when fall protection is needed.

Training strategies

Fall protection training can be broken down into four sections:
  • Definitions of fall protection terms, including the identification of equipment.
  • When is fall protection required?
  • Classroom activity wearing the harness and lanyard.
  • Testing.
There are plenty of resources available for fall protection training, including a wide assortment of videos that can enhance your training classes.
  1. Definitions — Fall protection has a language of its own. In many cases, the definitions can be accompanied by a photo.

    Here are some terms that may be unfamiliar to the average person.
    • Fall arrest systems (the harness, connectors, lanyards);
    • Body harness (the harness similar to a parachute harness);
    • Lanyards (the strap that connects the harness to the anchorage point);
    • Anchorage points (the point where the lanyard attaches);
    • Support “D” ring (the ring on the harness located at the center of the back where the lanyard attaches).
  2. When is fall protection required? — As mentioned earlier, fall protection is needed when a person is six feet above a walking working surface. The average person doesn’t feel at risk when they are at a height of six feet. Consequently, this makes training even more important. Employees must know when they need to either be placing barriers or utilizing fall arrest systems.

    For example, fall protection is required in articulating boom lifts. This is covered in 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart L. Since there is a chance that a person could be bounced out of the basket or may lean too far out and fall, a harness and lanyard must be used.
  3. Classroom activity — Remember to train employees regarding the inspection of the equipment before it is used. Go through each item and show the students the proper way to inspect the equipment.

    Fall protection harnesses aren’t the easiest things to put on, so it is imperative that your training has the student wear the equipment. Review how to put on the harness. Show the students each piece of equipment and pass it around so each person gets to handle each item. Share the importance of the harness fitting snuggly and that all straps are buckled and tucked back into the straps. The student should know that the “D” ring is placed in the center of the back.

    When discussing lanyards, be sure to cover the importance of secure anchorage points. Per OSHA, anchorages to which personal fall arrest equipment is attached shall be capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds per employee attached. Electrical conduit would not be an anchorage point.
  4. Testing — A written test should be used to prove that the student has understood the training. Part of the testing can also be a demonstration of the use of the equipment, including the inspection of each item.
Don’t take fall protection training lightly. Employees who are thoroughly trained in fall protection will prevent fall hazards and reduce injuries.