OSHA sets forth workplace safety standards meant to keep employees safe and employers are obligated by law to comply. If you do not follow OSHA guidelines, your organization will face stiff fines and penalties. It is also possible that you will be sued for medical expenses, lost wages, and more. Unfortunately, failure to provide adequate fall protection is among the most cited of all OSHA violations. In fact, there are two fall protection standards that regularly make it on OSHA’s most cited list.
Understanding fall protection standards and the consequences of not following these standards can help save your employees from becoming another statistic.
What Is Fall Protection?
In many workplaces, employees are required to work or walk on elevated surfaces. Per OSHA 1910.28, employers have a duty to provide fall protection and falling object protection anytime someone works at a height of 4 feet or more in general industry and 6 feet in the construction industry. This applies to both interior and exterior areas. Examples of fall hazards that workers may encounter include:
- Catwalks and Elevated Walkways
- Loading Docks
- Uneven surfaces
Why Use Fall Protection?
The most obvious reason to use fall protection is to keep your employees safe. Slip and fall accidents can lead to serious injuries, even from a seemingly low height. In fact, 2.6 million nonfatal workplace accidents and injuries happen every year in the US. Your organization can face severe financial consequences by way of OSHA fines. You may also be sued by an employee seeking compensation for their injuries. As experts who have testified in many such cases, we have seen first hand the costs of not using fall protection.
What Are the Most Common Fall Protection Citations?
According to OSHA, the two most common fall protection citations last year included:
Fall protection general requirements
- Standard: 1926.501
- Total Violations in 2022: 5,980
Fall protection training requirements
Total Violations: 1,778
What Types of Products Are Used in Fall Protection?
While OSHA does require fall protection equipment and devices to be used, it does not specifically state which products you must use. It is up to you to determine what fall protection equipment is appropriate for your application. However, the most common fall protection products include:
- Guardrails – The most widely used and versatile form of fall protection is a metal guardrail system. While permanent safety rails are most prevalent, you may also use modular guardrails. You must ensure, however, that they meet the standards in OSHA 1910.29.
- Handrails and Stair Rails – Workers who need to climb stairs or ladders must be provided with handrails to hold. Like guardrails, there are specific criteria that your handrails must meet to provide adequate fall protection and to ensure they’re OSHA-Compliant.
- Fall Arrest Systems – Horizontal and vertical lifelines, lanyards and body harnesses may be used when a guardrail system is not feasible or necessary. They are often used for rooftop fall protection during construction, repairs, and maintenance. Lifelines may also be used in conjunction with a guardrail system for added fall protection.
- Safety Net Systems – When guardrails and lifelines aren’t enough, a safety net system may be employed to provide fall protection for workers. Should a fall occur, the safety net will stop the individual from reaching the level below.
What Happens When You Don’t Use Fall Protection
When workers get too close to unprotected edges, holes in the floor, skylights, roof hatches, or other openings, they may slip and fall. The injuries they sustain may range from minor scratches and bruises to broken bones, muscle soft tissue damage, head injuries, and more. The more severe the injury, the more it’ll cost your organization in terms of lost productivity, financial responsibility, and OSHA non-compliance consequences. Often these accidents lead to lengthy litigation and even a trial, which can also cause severe damage to your company’s reputation.
Important Points to Remember When Using Fall Protection
It is vital that you understand your obligation to provide fall protection for your employees. You must also be fully cognizant of the proper way to use whatever fall safety equipment you choose for your facility. Some key things to remember:
- Passive fall protection such as guardrails must be OSHA-compliant, meaning they meet all the guidelines mentioned above. Safety rails may be used in a variety of settings including elevated walking/working surfaces, for machine guarding, for rooftop fall protection, at loading docks, and anywhere you wish to restrict access or protect a known fall hazard.
- Active fall protection including lifelines, lanyards and harnesses must be thoroughly inspected before each use. Defective or damaged equipment must be taken out of service. Employees must be fully trained on when and how to properly put on, wear, and use the equipment to prevent a fall.
Top Things to Do When Facing Litigation for a Workplace Fall
If a workplace slip and fall is leading to litigation, you are right to be concerned. The first thing to do is to find a good attorney with expertise in fall accident litigation. In conjunction with this fall-litigation attorney, you will then want to hire an Expert Witness with an engineering background, who can give you an independent opinion based upon sound science about whether or not fall safety equipment was present, safe, and properly used. After receiving this independent opinion, you will better know which party was at fault in the accident and how best to settle the dispute.