What are some basic fall protection rules that each of my workers need to understand?
With falls being one of the most common causes of workplace injuries and deaths, it’s imperative that workers who work at heights understand the basics of fall protection. While the employer is responsible for ensuring a safe work environment, every worker should make it a priority to become knowledgeable about general fall protection rules.
Effective fall protection has two facets: human and equipment. Both make important contributions to worker safety.
Fall Protection Equipment
Every job site where workers are at heights exceeding six feet should have fall protection equipment in place (learn more about choosing the right equipment in Arrest or Protect: Your Guide to Choosing the Right Fall Protection System). Systems to prevent falls of any kind should be used when possible. Guardrails must be 42” above walking level, while safety nets must be installed as close as possible under the working surface (and never more than 30 feet below).
Personal fall arrest systems are used to stop a worker who is falling from a working level. Some of the most important rules to note include:
- Worker must not free fall more than six feet and must not contact any lower level
- System must bring worker to complete stop
- System must be inspected before every use for wear, damage, or deterioration
- Body belts (safety belts) are prohibited for use as part of a fall arrest system
Workers should learn how to properly use the safety devices the employer provides, and immediately report any device that isn’t in good working order (help maintain your equipment with How to Prevent Fall Protection Equipment Malfunction).
Human Role in Fall Protection
In terms of the human aspect, it’s imperative that workers be vigilant when working at heights. Workers must be aware of their surroundings and immediately bring any concerns to the attention of a site supervisor. Potential hazards requiring fall protection include:
- Hoist areas
- Unguarded holes
- Ramps, runways, or walkways
- Dangerous equipment
- Wall openings
Workers who communicate effectively about their work environment and collaborate to mitigate hazards will lower their risk for falls and height related incidents.
Employer and Employee Responsibilities for Fall Safety
Employers must provide training to all employees who work at heights. Employees must take responsibility for participating fully in this training and be sure to ask questions to clarify rules and safety guidelines. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for employees to understand that they have the right to refuse unsafe work conditions without consequence.
Fall protection is a key part of workplace safety, and it’s a team effort. Don’t make the mistake of placing the responsibility solely on your employer—take your safety into your own hands by becoming knowledgeable about OSHA’s fall protection standards, understanding how to safely use fall protection devices, and maintaining awareness of your surroundings at all times.
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