Falls to lower levels continues to rank amongst the most frequent cause of workplace injuries and fatalities. The reasons these incidents occur can have their origins in several areas:
• Weaknesses in the management systems that influence fall protection programs.
• Others are related to human behaviors & beliefs.
The use of audit, assessment, and observation programs can proactively identify system weaknesses as well as improper employee behaviors and beliefs.
According to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics (BLS), 645a workers died from incidents involving falls from heights, and an additional 49,250b received injuries requiring them to take time away from work to recover during 2020. In comparison, there were 553c fatalities and an additional 47,920d cases involving days away from work in 2011.
Management systems influencing fall protection are not exclusive to a company’s fall protection procedure. Training programs can be a source of issues contributing to falls from heights. Is the content appropriate for the fall hazards encountered by employees? Is the proper use of fall protection equipment adequately addressed? Have employee’s been thoroughly evaluated in their use and inspection of their fall protection equipment? Each of these individually or combined in parts can adversely impact how employees use their fall protection when facing fall hazards. Inadequate plans or inadequately prepared employees will continue place them at risk when at heights.
Behaviors and beliefs play their own significant role in incidents involving falls from heights. Complacency, risk tolerance, and the belief that the task “will only take a minute” can result in tragic outcomes. These require addressing employees’ beliefs through education, mentoring, and the influence of those willing to step up and intervene when they see improper behaviors.
Knowing which of these items require attention needs data to identify. Fortunately, this data is not exclusive to lessons learned from incidents. The use of audit, assessment, and observation programs can proactively identify system weaknesses as well as improper employee behaviors and beliefs. To efficiently and effectively collect and analyze the information requires a comprehensive data management system.
Because falls continue to be a significant contributor to workplace injuries and fatalities, OSHA conducts a National Safety Stand-Down To Prevent Falls in Construction annually. Partnered with groups around the country, including the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) and the National Safety Council (NSC), the stand-down is voluntary event allowing employers to deliver life critical messages related to fall hazards and fall prevention. This year the National Safety Stand-Down will take place May 2-6. Please take advantage of this opportunity to raise fall hazard awareness and foster conversations in an effort to stop fall related injuries and fatalities.
Visit https://www.osha.gov/stop-falls-stand-down for more information and resources.
behind fall protection equipment and the consensus standards that set the expectations for how it must operate continue to evolve, yet workers still fall from heights almost daily.
What Is Left
is to understand the incidents and the reasons they occur.
Thoroughly inspect your gear to identify any defects such as:
• Metal components (D-ring, tongue & buckle, keepers, double lock snap hook, grommets, adjuster buckle, etc.) are not to be damaged, broken, distorted, or have sharp edges, burrs, cracks, worn parts or corrosion.
• Snap hooks, adjusters, swages, thimbles, are not to be damaged, distorted, broken, nor do they have any sharp edges, burrs, worn parts, cracks or corrosion. Gate mechanism not engaging or working properly.
• Webbing material is not frayed, does not have any broken fibers, cuts, tears, abrasions, mold, burns, discoloration that may indicate chemical exposure or rotting, and pulled out or cut stitching.
• Confirm there are no signs that the equipment has been subjected to a fall such as the lanyard’s load impact indicator.
Your personal fall protection system is your last line of defense between you and the levels below. To assure yourself that it is in good working order, make sure to give your harness and lanyard a thorough inspection before you put it on each day. When you don your harness, take the time to adjust the straps and fit so that it will provide you with the maximum protection in the event of a fall.
a. Bureau of Labor & Statistics – Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) – Current, Fatal occupational injuries by event
b. Bureau of Labor & Statistics – Case and Demographic Characteristics for Work-related Injuries and Illnesses Involving Days Away From Work, Event or exposure X worker demographics – 2020 R64. Detailed event or exposure by industry division
c. Bureau of Labor & Statistics – Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) – 2020, Fatal work injury counts by event, recent years
d. Bureau of Labor & Statistics – Case and Demographic Characteristics for Work-related Injuries and Illnesses Involving Days Away From Work, Event or exposure X worker demographics – 2011 R64. Detailed event or exposure by industry division.