Year after year, falls continue to be one of the leading causes of injuries and accidents in the commercial construction industry. In fact, fall risks are so common they’re the number one item on OSHA’s Focus Four list. Fall risks exist across nearly every construction site, so mitigating them with proper training, education, preparation, and awareness are essential for preventing accidents.
At Unique Building Group, we specialize in large-scale building envelope solutions, so managing fall risks is a large part of our everyday business. We’re constantly looking for ways to enhance our safety standards and procedures beyond the minimum requirements. Below, we’ll discuss fall risks and share tips for how to prevent them through safety procedure best practices.
Fall Prevention vs. Fall Protection
Falls typically occur when employees are working from a surface that is elevated 6 feet or higher above the ground while not adequately protected. There are essentially two ways to manage fall risks – fall prevention and fall protection. When it comes to construction safety, it’s important to understand the difference between fall prevention and fall protection strategies. While these two strategies are critical parts of every safety program, they do not mean the same thing:
Fall prevention strategies consist of equipment, controls, and processes that prevent a fall from happening in the first place. Fall prevention tactics may include training, communication, and awareness, but they can also include physical equipment. Below are some of the most common fall prevention tools:
- Guardrails – Guardrails are required on floor edges, roofs, scaffolds, ramps, or platforms elevated 7 1/2 feet or higher above ground level. OSHA requires that guardrails be capable of withstanding 400 pounds of pressure and the top rail be a minimum of 42 inches from the ground.
- Floor Hole Covers – Floor holes are frequently present throughout job sites and present significant fall risks. Processes for marking and covering floor holes should be detailed in every company’s safety procedures.
- Safety Nets – Safety nets can be used both to prevent falls from happening and for protecting a worker if a fall does occur. They should be installed no further than 30 feet below an elevated surface and extend beyond each edge of the surface by eight feet. They should also be capable of withstanding at least 400 pounds.
Fall Protection usually encompasses personal protective equipment (PPE) that is used to protect a worker in the event a fall does occur. Fall protection is usually the responsibility of the worker. Safety belts, body harnesses, and restraint systems are examples of fall protection equipment. Below are the most common and effective fall protection systems:
- Fall Arrest Systems – If a fall does happen, it’s important to have systems in place to protect the worker from serious injury, and fall arrest systems are a way to do just that. The system works to stop your fall before you hit the ground. It consists of harnesses, an anchor point, and shock-absorbing lanyards that have 2 locking snap hooks. The system must be capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds and should always be inspected before each use.
- Fall Restraint System – Fall restraint systems are similar, but the purpose of this equipment is to prevent you from getting too close to the edge. Fall restraint systems are also comprised of a harness, anchor point, and lanyard.
Both fall arrest systems and fall restraint systems are known as active fall protection systems, as they require workers to take action in order to protect themselves.
Preventing Falls On Commercial Construction Sites
In addition to fall prevention equipment, there are a number of additional ways construction firms and mitigate falls risks. Most of these prevention tactics are put in place prior to workers even stepping foot on the job site.
Robust Training Programs
Consistent fall prevention and fall protection training is an essential part of construction safety. Through regular training programs and mentorship programs, organizations can ingrain fall safety into their daily processes. OSHA standards and requirements should serve as the minimum foundation for your safety program. Keep in mind, training isn’t a one-time activity. Subcontractor firms should implement robust, recurring programs that require employees to engage in construction safety training all year long.
Falls are more likely to happen when a worker is unfamiliar with his or her surroundings. Teams with good communication strategies are more likely to mitigate these risks. Teams should hold daily safety meetings to review all job site hazards and fall risks. Additionally, teams should be equipped with phones or walkie-talkies so new hazards or accidents can be communicated quickly.
Maintain Your Equipment
So much of fall prevention and fall protection relies on safety equipment, which is why it’s important to inspect your PPE before each and every use. This equipment serves as your last line of defense for mitigating fall risks, so it’s absolutely critical that it’s in good shape. Any old, damaged, or non-functioning PPE should be discarded immediately.
While workers are responsible for using active fall protection equipment, the construction safety supervisor is responsible for creating a safe work environment. It’s the job of the safety supervisor to generate awareness around fall risks, and also serve as an approachable resource when problems do occur. A good safety supervisor should monitor work in progress and be quick to call out potential problems or violations.
Falls are completely unpredictable, so it’s absolutely critical for workers to be up to date on construction safety training especially when working at heights. Commercial construction is one of the most dangerous careers, which is why GC’s need to partner with subcontractors that prioritize safety. Accidents will not only lead to employee injury but can also lead to costly project delays.
For more information on commercial construction safety, contact us at Unique Building Group. As an industry leader for more than 30 years, we specialize in large-scale framing, drywall, and cladding solutions. As a result, our team understands the importance of integrating fall safety procedures into our operations.