Fall hazards are one of the biggest concerns for OSHA and are one of the highest reasons for accidents and injuries on a construction worksite. Falls can occur almost anywhere on a job site, including on the roof or by a person tripping over an extension chord. OSHA outlined general fall protection requirements stating contractors and builders must use personal fall arrest systems, guardrails, or safety nets when a vertical drop is 6’ or higher on February 6, 1995. This forced employers to put the safety of their employees before anything else. Every once in a while some employers, and even employees will not follow this regulation mainly because they are too lazy or it takes too long to set up a safe workplace.
OSHA obviously takes fall protection very seriously and they are constantly reviewing and updating their policies to insure safety. OSHA has given each state an approved plan for employees and employers to operate by but each state has the option to use their own OSHA approved state plan. Their plan must be as effective as comparable to the Federal OSHA standards or higher. With ledges that have drop of 6 feet or more, employers need to install guardrails, safety nets or use personal fall arrest systems. Guardrails can either be temporary which is usually for construction or they can be permanent, usually for industrial work. For example, on new construction for a home, temporary guardrails will be used on stairs or any open ledges with a fall distance greater than 6 feet until walls or railing can be installed in the house. There are requirements for both construction and industry, and there is a great similarity between the two which require: “vertical height of 42 inches plus or minus 3 inches, Mid rail height of 21 inches, top rails must be capable of withstanding 200 pounds of pressure, mid rails capable of withstanding 150 pounds of pressure, and the rails and post diameters must be 1-1/2” or more.” Safety net systems might be used instead and they can be explained as a net that is hung over a large area to protect workers from falls. These nets will catch the worker, any large tool or large debris.
There are many regulations an employer must follow if they chose to use safety nets. Some of the more important regulations include: Safety nets cannot be more than 30 feet below the fall ledge, safety nets must have appropriate clearance to prevent contact with the surface or structures under them, safety nets must be inspected for wear, damage, and other deterioration at least once a week, and after any occurrence which could affect the integrity of the system, maximum mesh size must not exceed 6 inches by 6 inches, each safety net must have a border rope for webbing with a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds. Safety nets are more ideal on big commercial construction projects or working at extreme heights. The most common used fall protection is personal fall arrest systems. A personal fall arrest system is used to arrest an employee in a fall from a working level. It consists of an anchorage, connectors, a body belt or body harness and may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or suitable combinations of these. Each part of a personal fall arrest system has its own regulations to follow.
Many times the nature and location of the work will dictate the form that fall protection takes. No matter what the employer uses, they are all very good ways to protect employees from falls. OSHA is constantly looking into improving the current fall protection systems and regulation and they are also finding new ways to protect employees. Employers must do their part and plan ahead to get the job done safely, provide the right equipment, train everyone to use the equipment safely, and provide a clean a safe work site.