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Fall Protection Tops OSHA’s List of Most Cited Violations

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Each year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration releases the Top 10 Most Cited Violations of safety and health standards. Inspectors from OSHA and OSHA state plans conducted nearly 76,000 workplace inspections in 2017. The top 10 list is a good starting point when doing your own safety and health audit. 

Topping the list, as it has for more years than anyone can remember, is Duty to Have Fall Protection, with the most violations cited in construction. Inadequate fall protection led to 384 construction workers dying on the job in 2016.

Actively identify each fall risk on each job, communicate the risks to employees and use administrative, engineering or personal protective methods to eliminate those risks.

Human beings have gravity figured out by the time they’ve mastered walking. Toddlers know, more or less, how far they can bend over before falling down, and by the time they're six they have a pretty good understanding (mostly from trial and error) that if they step into thin air, they'll fall, often with serious consequences.

By the time they're adults you'd expect them to recognize more and more complex forms of fall hazards, and then either avoid them, or do something to make them non hazardous. The statistics though, tell a different story.

What's a construction employer to do?

Actively identify each fall risk on each job, communicate the risks to employees and use administrative, engineering or personal protective methods to eliminate those risks. Here are some starting points.

Residential Tops the Most Cited List

The most cited standard related to fall protection in 2017 was 1926.501(b)(13) which requires each employee working in residential construction to have protection from falls provided by "guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems." Employers can use alternate forms of protection when standard forms are infeasible, or they create greater hazards, but the burden of proof is on them.

Walking and Working on Protected Surfaces  

The second most-cited standard of the fall protection standards is "unprotected sides and edges," standard 1926.501(b)(1). Employees must have guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems when the unprotected sides or edges of walking or working surfaces are six feet or more above a lower level.

Roofing on Low-Sloped Roofs

The third most-cited fall protection standard was 1926.501(b)(10). Employees working on low-sloped roofs with unprotected sides or edges that are six feet or more above another level should be protected by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall protection systems. Violators also were cited for not using alternative protections with warning line systems like safety guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest or safety monitoring systems. The only time you should consider using a safety monitoring system alone is when the roof is 50 feet or less wide.  

Roofing on Steep Roofs

This standard, 1926.501(b)(11), requires protecting each employee by using guardrail systems on steep roofs with unprotected sides or edges that are six feet or more above lower levels.

Guarding Holes

The fifth most-cited fall protection standard is 1926.501(b)(4)(i) which requires personal fall arrest systems, covers, or guardrail systems around holes in walking and working surfaces, including skylight holes. It's often convenient to ignore placing railings around stairway openings since it makes it easier to move materials through the openings. But, even on a two story structure, it's deadly when someone falls through a stairway opening.

Here's an overlooked tip for avoiding deaths and injuries from falls; constantly look for new hazards.

Here's an overlooked tip for avoiding deaths and injuries from falls; constantly look for new hazards. Construction sites are dynamic, and as soon as one hazard closes, another often opens up. Constant diligence and heavily communicating fall protection requirements can keep awareness at high levels.

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