Falling in Line

Evaluating your facility's working surfaces may turn up hazards you haven't considered, as well as new hazards no one has reported.

FALL hazards are a year-round challenge. Some are lurking underfoot in the safest of workplaces; workers encounter others anywhere from a few feet to hundreds of feet above the ground. It helps to have the mindset that fall protection applies at any height, not just at the height where protective equipment is mandatory.

Those working at elevated heights--steel erection crews, telecommunication tower repair and construction employees, high-rise construction workers, tree trimmers, electrical linemen, and others--must be protected. But what about those who work at ground level or below? Evaluating your facility and all working surfaces in it may turn up hazards you haven't considered, as well as new hazards no one has reported (persistent leaks, exposed extension cords, damaged or unsteady ladders, a support beam bent by a forklift's impact, etc.). Consider all of the possibilities, from the mundane to the unlikely.

Employees may refuse to admit to having fallen unless they are seriously injured or are caught in the act. Some will not report that an injury occurred on site and will place medical costs on their personal insurance to avoid an investigation. Regardless whether this stems from pride, guilt, or simply being unable to admit assistance is needed, you can avoid this by planning ahead.

By fixing the problems before there is a slip, a fall, and an injury, you save medical treatment cost, lost production, retraining expenses, lost work time, higher insurance premiums, and damaged morale. Make sure your employees are not hurrying. If they are moving too fast without paying sufficient attention to their safety, you've got a real problem.

Preventing Slips and Falls from Height
How can you communicate the absolute importance of effective fall protection to your employees? Here are suggestions for delivering the message in a memorable, consistent, effective manner:

  • Show them you mean business by using safer alternatives where appropriate. Where possible, replace ladders with stairs, have fall protection systems built in at the design phase, or provide mobile lifts and other carrying assistance for oversized or heavy items.
  • Audit your site. Walk through it on a regular basis, and have others (such as members of your safety committee) join you. Evaluate all walking and working surfaces, including floors, steps, stair treads, mezzanines, entrances, loading docks, storage rooms, ladders, and even stepstools. Look for uneven or damaged areas and worn places at doorways or where two different flooring surfaces meet. Evaluate flooring surfaces for slip resistance, such as tile or marble floors, and all tasks done by employees. Review your OSHA injury and illness log for previous years for trends and to identify departments that have shown a higher fall potential or history. Talk with employees from every department and get a full understanding of how they do their jobs.
  • Evaluate the lighting in every work area. Is it bright enough? Too bright? Is glare a problem for computer workstations? Does dim lighting obscure trip hazards--power cords, for example--in warehouse or storage areas? When bulbs burn out, are they being replaced as necessary?
  • Audit your workforce. Do the employees have the education and foot protection to provide adequate walking/climbing ability? Are their safety shoes poorly fitted, of poor quality, or excessively worn? Perhaps some workers wear their jeans or slacks too long, rolling them under the soles of their shoes. Both conditions can cause trips.
  • Educate your workforce. Make sure each person understands the policy and is familiar with potential hazards at the site. Teach employees to have pride in their work area and to keep it uncluttered. Ensure the correct type of footwear is worn for each task. Impress upon the workers not to run, especially up stairs. Have employees report problems or needed corrections so quick action can be taken.
  • Have the right tools ready when needed. If your employees are expected to clean up a spill, have the tools and supplies for cleanup and disposal available where they can get them easily.
  • Follow up. Consistent follow-up can help you maintain peak compliance.

Checklist: Preventing Construction Falls

This checklist was prepared by Linda F. Johnson, a former technical editor of Occupational Health & Safety. Items in it are for evaluation purposes only, and are not meant to substitute for a comprehensive safety program or audit.

Yes

No

Is management actively committed to providing a safe work site?

Yes

No

Is the site inspected daily or more often for housekeeping problems that may cause a fall from elevation or a same-level fall?

Yes

No

Is the entire site surveyed regularly for changing conditions that may create a tripping or slipping hazard?

Yes

No

Are spills cleaned up immediately?

Yes

No

Are walkways kept clear and free of combustible materials?

Yes

No

Is loose granular material swept up and removed immediately?

Yes

No

Is stored material stable and secure from tipping or falling over?

Yes

No

Are workers' tools and toolboxes properly located and stored? Are all stray tools gathered and stored properly at the end of each shift?

Yes

No

Is a safe clearance for material handling equipment provided through aisles and doorways?

Yes

No

Are openings to outside walls adequately barricaded and labeled before any work begins in the area?

Yes

No

Are employees prohibited from sitting on ledges of openings to outside walls?

Yes

No

Are all floor openings identified with appropriate signage and covered or barricaded prior to worker exposure in the area?

Yes

No

Are floor openings guarded by a standard railing or a person posted on guard at all times when employees are exposed?

Yes

No

Have all employees been advised about how to report unsafe conditions at the site?

Yes

No

Do they know whom to contact in such cases?

Yes

No

Are reported items or unsafe conditions documented?

Yes

No

Do employees wear appropriate safety footwear for the floor conditions?

Yes

No

Does their footwear fit properly?

Yes

No

Is damaged or defective footwear replaced or repaired?

Yes

No

Is the level of lighting adequate for safe employee movement and for the work being performed?

Yes

No

Are temporary hand railings checked for protruding nails and splinters?

Yes

No

Are floors and walkways evaluated for evenness? Are changes in elevation, such as joints, labeled?

Yes

No

Are covers or guardrails in place and marked around open trenches, pits, tanks, or other surface interruptions?

Yes

No

Are plans in place for fencing and barricading the work site from public use and vehicular traffic? Is the perimeter wide enough to protect outsiders from debris and potential fall hazards?

Yes

No

Do workers for your company or subcontractors who use scaffolding utilize a competent person for its set-up, use, and removal?

Yes

No

Are scrap bins monitored for spillover that could create a slip/fall hazard?

Yes

No

Are adequate cleanup supplies and absorbents available for spills?

Yes

No

Do employees know where to find first aid supplies on the site?

Yes

No

Are emergency numbers posted as required?

This article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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