Fall protection and prevention is an important component of safety for most construction jobs. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s data, falls are the leading cause of injuries in construction. Working on roofs, on ladders, on scaffolding, near edges and pits, or on other elevated platforms puts employees at risk of serious injury or death.
The good thing is that everything is preventable. Here’s what you should know about fall protection requirements, and a plan to improve fall protection compliance on your construction projects.
Exploring Fall Protection Requirements
When it comes to fall protection requirements from OSHA, things are straightforward. Generally, when there’s a height of six feet or more, you need to implement guardrail systems, safety nets, or fall-arrest systems to prevent falls.
As a safety-minded organization, you should approach fall protection in four different ways:
- Elimination: This is the preferred method of fall protection. This means eliminating the need to work at heights, where possible. With certain types of construction, such as that of buildings, deep pile foundations, and utility installation, among others, it’s impossible to eliminate working from heights, but project managers, superintendents, and safety managers should review work plans to minimize the need.
- Prevention: Preventing falls is often achieved through guardrails or barricades near edges. Prevention also includes using personal protective equipment, such as fall restraint lanyards and safety harnesses that restrict workers from approaching edges and pits.
- Arrest: This refers to a system that stops a fall as it’s happening. Fall-arrest systems may be general, such as safety nets, or personal, such as a lifeline.
- Administrative Control: Administrative controls do not generally prevent a person from falling. This control type can involve the use of warning signs or mechanisms, or hiring an observer to watch. It also includes creating a policy for fall protection and enforcing it, especially as part of an overall safety management strategy.
Managing Safety Actively
A safety management plan must be proactive. It should anticipate typical fall protection requirements associated with the type of work you do. It’s not enough to provide a generic training video to employees in the hopes of improving fall protection compliance, especially in construction work zones. You need an overall safety management plan that encompasses a team of professionals, including managers, inspectors, and auditors, to fulfill the following tasks:
- Identify fall hazards such as pits, edges, ladders, scaffolding, roof work, and other platforms.
- Eliminate the need for fall protection by eliminating the risk where possible.
- Identify unsafe conditions and behaviors from field crew and third parties.
- Gauge understanding and attitudes towards fall protection.
- Confirm best practices for preventing falls.
- Create and/or revise company-wide safety policy.
- Establish safety protocols that are specific to each project.
- Provide OSHA-compliant training for fall protection.
- Identify personal protective equipment and systems needed to improve safety, including fall. restraints, fall arrest systems, and guards/barricades.
- Engage with senior management to fund and provide safety gear and training.
- Verify compliance in accordance with OSHA, company policy, and client requirements.
- Perform random site visits to check compliance.
- Perform site safety audits, including fall prevention.
- Document the details of safety incidents or violations.
- Recommend and verify corrective action.
- Provide additional training and education as necessary.
Creating and Cultivating a Culture of Safety
In nearly any organization, it’s hard to improve behaviors and actions without creating a culture that fosters improved attitudes and understanding of safety, especially related to fall prevention. While the needs of your company may vary, consider these approaches to getting everyone on board with creating and perpetuating a culture of safety:
- Safety Is Success. Safety is important for its own sake. It’s not about checking boxes for OSHA compliance or lowering incidents to save money on insurance. You value the lives of the people at your company, and project success cannot be measured or monitored without active safety.
- Safety Is Everyone’s Business. If a CEO or President isn’t enthusiastic and intentional about safety, employees won’t be, either. Talk is easy, but action supports your commitment to making work environments much safer. This also extends to your main and branch offices, as well as active work zones. Safety needs to be a priority for the site superintendent, as well as for the receptionist answering the phone.
- Education Matters. Regular fall safety training is important, especially for those whose positions require fall protection. You need a robust training program that ensures every employee receives the training needed for success. Recognize that fall safety can be scaled as appropriate. Office employees won’t need safety lanyards to do their jobs in accounting, marketing, or IT, but they can benefit from knowing and sharing fall safety tips for the workplace.
- Motivation Matters. Often, safety is framed in terms of what’s best for the company. Consider reframing discussions in terms of what matters to each worker. For example, many employees have families that they want to return to safely each day. When a person can internalize the idea that safety is not just about the company or the individual, but also the people we connect with, that person may start to change attitudes and behaviors.
- Facilitate Safety. Best practices should be accommodated as much as possible. If a field employee notices that there’s a safety concern, how easy is it to report the issue? If a worker identifies a way to improve fall protection compliance, will that idea be shot down based on cost? When it comes to choosing protective gear, does your company always go for the least expensive choice, sacrificing quality and comfort? Take an honest assessment of where you are as a company, and find ways to facilitate safety.
- Discipline Bad Behavior. Your organization needs to take a hard line on penalizing non-compliance. The consequences of falls are not only costly with respect to lost time, lost wages, and fines – they’re also fatal, in many cases. Your policy needs to clearly define the consequences of failure to comply. Will a worker be sent home without pay? Will an incident result in termination? This needs to be decided on and communicated clearly to everyone.
- Incentivize Good Behavior. Employees should also be rewarded for good behaviors related to fall protection and other safety concerns. Consider awarding bonuses and other gifts to those who are exemplary when it comes to safety. Encourage enthusiasm by providing incentives for employees to create campaigns, increase awareness, and other actions that promote a culture of safety.
Fall protection compliance and safety, in general, require a top-down approach with the full support and buy-in of company leadership.
Managing safety at project sites and in the office should be aided by technology. Consistent, real-time reporting, document completion, and distribution help improve your company’s compliance with fall protection requirements and other safety concerns. Fluix is a lightweight, flexible, and scalable platform that companies like yours can use to optimize and automate processes and workflows. It is accessible and fully operational on mobile devices, making it ideal for construction project teams.