February 19, 2022
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), falls on construction sites are one of the leading causes of injury and death for workers. This begs the question “What are the fall protection guidelines for construction sites?” In 2019, 991 workers died in falls and 244,000 had injuries that were severe enough to cause them to take time off work to get medical care and recover from injuries. Sometimes the falls are the result of the employee’s not taking proper precautions, while others are the result of the employer’s not providing sufficient safety equipment and training.
The fact is, it doesn’t take a fall from a tall height to cause serious injuries or death. Out of the 991 workers who died in 2019 from falls, 401 of them were killed by falls on the same level. These numbers highlight a lack of fall protection in construction and why it’s important that site managers and employees take fall protection seriously to prevent injury at a construction site.
The Importance of Fall Protection at Construction Sites
Construction sites are full of hazards that can cause someone to trip or slip and fall. Someone who trips and falls on a level surface is likely to sustain injuries, but they’re not as likely to suffer serious injuries as they would if they fell from a height. The higher someone is above the ground, the harder the impact when they land. Fall protection at construction sites stops falls from a height and protects workers from serious injury and death.
The OSHA Rules for Fall Protection at Construction Sites
OSHA requires employers to set up a worksite in a way that prevents employees from falling off an elevated platform or workstation, through holes in the floor, and from edges and other dangerous areas. The requirements are found in Subpart M of Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations, also known as Subpart M – Fall Protection. Subpart M outlines an employer’s responsibilities for fall protection on a job site including height, working surfaces, structural integrity, and activities.
Fall protection has to begin at four feet at general industry worksites, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry, and eight feet at longshoring worksites. OSHA also requires the provision of fall protection for employees working over dangerous equipment and machines, no matter how far the fall distance.
What Are the 2 Types of Fall Protection Used in Construction?
The two major types of fall protection include general fall protection and personal fall protection. General protection refers to netting or nets, and personal protection includes vertical and horizontal lifelines. Guardrails are another type of fall protection and are put into use in settings where workers are working at a height of at least six feet.
The netting used as fall protection in construction is designed to catch workers who fall from a certain height. Nets are rated to withstand the impact and force of a worker’s body and keep them from falling farther.
There are two types of lifelines for construction workers, known as vertical and horizontal. A horizontal lifeline runs from side to side and is attached to anchor points. The line and anchor should have sufficient strength to stop the worker in mid-fall. A vertical lifeline is used for workers who perform vertical climbs.
Where Fall Protection at Construction Sites is Required
OSHA lays out the various construction site settings that require fall protection and what type of fall protection needs to be in use. They include:
- Leading edges
- Overhand bricklaying and related work
- Roofing work on low-slope and steep roofs
- Residential construction
- Walking or working surfaces six feet above a lower level.
Common Settings Leading to Fall Injuries on Construction Sites
Fall protection at construction sites goes only so far when people don’t wear their safety gear, employers don’t keep up with the condition of or supply the required equipment, or workers are not sufficiently trained in the use of fall protection. However, falls can be due to more than insufficient protection:
Unfinished roofs have a host of falling hazards that include edges without proper safety barriers, openings such as holes for skylights, and the leading edge of the roof where construction is still taking place. A lack of awareness of the hazards by workers and those directing the work are common reasons why people fall off of or through roofs.
When aerial lifts are not set up properly, they can lead to falls. Falls happen when the ground the lift is placed on isn’t level. An aerial lift that’s not sitting level is prone to instability even before the worker gets into the basket and starts their ascent. As the lift gets higher, the instability gets worse, and the movement of the workers can cause them to lose their balance and fall.
Ladders not Placed Properly
A ladder that’s not put in the proper position can fall backward or forward as the worker climbs up. When a ladder is set down on an uneven surface or lacks a level surface underneath, the ladder becomes unstable in the same way as a poorly placed aerial lift. Ladders also require regular inspection to make sure that they’re safe to use and won’t break as a worker climbs up.
Slip and Trip Hazards
Worksites are full of objects that can lead to a slip and trip at any height, but they become especially dangerous as the heights increase. Tools, debris, and equipment can quickly make a walkway narrower than it should be and make it harder for people to pass by. A slip or trip on something left on a walkway, combined with a lack of safety equipment, can result in serious injury or death.
Types of Injuries Sustained from a Fall
The injuries that can result from a fall at a construction site range from strains and sprains to broken bones and bruised internal organs to death. As the distance of the fall increases, so does the potential for serious and multiple injuries. Death can also occur as a result of a fall.
Call us at Waldman Legal for help with injuries sustained on a construction site.
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries from a fall at a construction site, call us now at (713) 688-4878. We can help you with filing a workers’ compensation claim and determining whether you can pursue a claim against your employer or a third party for personal injury. A consultation with one of our attorneys is free.