OSHA Fall Protection: Requirements and Training
Falls are the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths. In 2016, the National Safety Council reported 697 workers died in falls to lower levels, and 48,060 were injured badly enough they required time off work. Construction workers have the greatest risk of fatal falls--about seven times the national average--but an injury-causing fall can happen in any environment. OSHA fall protection requirements help reduce dangerous and potentially deadly falls.
OSHA Fall Protection Requirements
OSHA fall requirements include both general and industry-specific procedures to prevent falls, tripping, and slipping. General industry fall prevention standards are covered by OSHA 1910.28(b)(1)(i).
OSHA 1910(b)(1)(i) requires fall protection for any work performed at heights four feet or higher from the ground or the next lower level. OSHA fall requirements also include:
- Railings and toeboards or floor hole covers around all floor holes.
- Guardrails and toeboards around all open-sided platforms, floors, or runways four feet or more above lower levels.
- Appropriate fall protection training for all staff.
OSHA fall requirements for construction workers differ slightly. In addition to fall protection training, OSHA 1926.501(b)(1) requires fall protection gear for any worker over six feet from the ground or a lower level. When working on scaffolding six to ten feet high, however, fall protection is not required unless the scaffolding height is greater than ten feet.
The No Minimum Height Standard
Certain situations require fall protection or machine guarding regardless of the height at which work is performed. Any time workers perform tasks above dangerous equipment, machinery, or other hazards in which they could fall, fall protection is required.
Preventing Falls on Stairs and Ladders
The incorrect use of ladders is a common cause of fall-related injuries. Staff should be taught the proper and safe use of ladders, and any fixed ladders of greater height than 24 feet must have ladder safety devices or self-retracting lifelines--whether or not the worker is at or above the 24-foot mark.
OSHA fall requirements also cover stairs. Any stairway with four or more risers that rises more than 30 inches must have stair rails along all unprotected sides.
Reducing the Risk of Falls on the Same Level
Injury-causing falls often occur on at ground level--of the 697 fall-related fatalities in 2016, 134 occured on the same level. To reduce the risk of same-level falls, workplaces should:
- Reduce wetness in slippery areas
- Keep floors as dry as possible
- Clean up spills immediately
- Use false floors, platforms, mats, or other dry standing areas
- Remove obstacles from hallways and walkways
- Provide appropriate waterproof footgear
- Provide adequate lighting in all stairwells, hallways, and work areas
- Use warning signs in wet areas
Employees should report any areas where wet surfaces or obstacles make it unsafe to walk to their supervisors, who should take prompt action to resolve the issue.