Preventing Construction Falls While Working at Heights

In the construction industry, workers face a variety of hazards on a daily basis as they operate heavy equipment, transport materials, or walk through a busy job site. But the leading cause of death in the construction sector is attributed to falls[1] – falls that could have been prevented.

Most falls from heights occur when a worker loses balance while performing a common task at the edge of an open space. These falls occur not because the hazard wasn’t recognized, but because adequate measures were not taken to prevent the fall.

An effective fall prevention program for employees working at heights can help reduce the likelihood of falls and related injuries. Here are some ways to help reduce falls.

1. Keep surfaces free of trip-and-fall hazards.

Federal safety regulations require that work areas and stairs be free from materials that could contribute to tripping. It’s important to not only address hazards on elevated surfaces, but to also address hazards below these areas. A person falling from above may suffer worse injuries as a result of landing on uneven ground, tools, materials, or machinery.

2. Implement physical barriers.

Install physical barriers, such as guardrails, to help prevent falls. Use material that meets American National Standards Institute (ANSI) strength requirements to construct your guardrail system.[2] The most commonly used guardrail materials are wood and wire rope.

3. Plan your work areas.

When setting up the job site, plan hoisting and landing areas to limit the removal of safety railings during the course of work. Provide workers with personal fall arrest systems, such as a lanyard, body harness, and anchor, when they are working in an area without safety railings. Plan ahead so that fall arrest systems are on-site and rigged prior to removing guardrails and beginning work.

4. Protect openings.

Protect any opening (wider than two inches) in an elevated floor, deck, or platform with a guardrail, barricade, or hole cover. Hole covers should hold twice the maximum anticipated load and be secured to prevent accidental shifting or displacement. It’s also important to highlight the cover with a sign, by painting it a specific color, or by adding the words “cover” or “hole” on the top.

5. Limit ladder use.

Falls from ladders are a top cause of injury in the construction industry. Therefore, minimize the amount of time employees spend on ladders and instead use mobile lifts whenever possible. 

6. Establish a cleanup process.

A cleanup process should address how to consistently clean and sweep your job site as you conduct work. This should also include promptly cleaning up liquid spills, as substances such as oil and water can increase the risk of slips and falls. Additionally, place trash bins adjacent to workstations to catch falling or excess materials that otherwise would collect on the ground.

7. Train all employees.

Train employees on how to recognize and address fall hazards. For example, every worker should know that guardrails and covers should not be removed without workers first using fall arrest systems. Additionally, require workers to report any altered, damaged, or removed guardrails, hole covers, or fall arrest equipment so that they can be repaired or replaced. Conduct yearly fall prevention training, and maintain a current, written certification record to document each worker’s completion.

Additionally, provide retraining when any of these situations occur:

  • There are changes in the system or workplace.
  • A worker fails to recognize or avoid fall hazards or does not demonstrate the proper skills to effectively use fall arrest equipment.
  • A fall-related accident takes place.

By establishing a fall prevention program, you can help keep your workers safe so they can focus on the job ahead.

[1]United States Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

[2]ANSI Consensus standards published by the American National Standards Institute. The A10 series of standards addresses construction safety; 

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The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.