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Fall Protection: How to Avoid the Most Common OSHA Violation

Toby Graham /

Do you know everything you need to know about the 10 most frequently cited Occupational Health and Safety Administration standards? In this series, we’re exploring the most common OSHA violations, one by one. Keep reading to learn about OSHA’s fall protection and training standards.

OSHA Fall Protection and Training: What It Is

OSHA definition: “Falls are among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. Employers must set up the workplace to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated work stations, or into holes in the floor and walls.” (Source)

Simple definition: Slips, trips, and falls are the #1 reason employees get hurt or killed at work. OSHA expects employers to protect workers from falls, but falls keep happening nonetheless. Organizations just aren’t doing enough to prevent falls, and workers aren’t taking the issue seriously enough.

This has been the case for practically a decade. In fact, falls are such a big deal that they occupy not one, but two spots on the most recent OSHA “Top 10” list

OSHA’s “Fall Protection – General Requirements” standard was in the #1 spot for 2019. “Fall Protection – Training Requirements” was ranked at #8. Combined, violations of these two standards accounted for nearly 8,000 OSHA citations in 2019. That’s about 25% of all violations last year. And OSHA estimates that falls account for approximately 36% of all fatal injuries.

To protect workers from falls, employers must do things such as the following:

  • eliminate any known dangers in the workplace
  • keep floors as clean and dry as possible
  • cover floor holes workers can fall into 
  • provide guardrails and toe-boards around open-sided platforms, floors, and runways
  • when required, provide other means of fall protection, including safety harnesses, nets, and railings
  • provide workers with personal protective equipment to at no cost to them
  • train workers about fall hazards

Why OSHA Fall Protection and Training Violations Happen

Fall violations are common because dangerous and life-threatening falls have so many causes. Here are just a few:

  • wet surfaces
  • uneven surfaces
  • inadequate lighting
  • ladders that have been improperly set up
  • ladders with structural defects
  • crowded workspaces
  • dangerous weather conditions, e.g. snow and wind

Countless falls can be attributed to human error. People use ladders incorrectly, rush around on elevated platforms, run up or down the stairs, lose sight of their footing, and so on.

Sometimes, falls are unavoidable, but they become far more dangerous than necessary—or even deadly—because fall protection precautions haven’t been taken. Maybe open holes haven’t been covered. Perhaps the employer or property owner didn’t install guardrails. Maybe it’s a case of a worker neglecting to wear a helmet, goggles, or other PPE. Or maybe a supervisor figured it would be unnecessary to have workers use personal fall protection, arrest, or restraint systems, and someone who fell was badly injured or killed as a result.

Finally, as with so many OSHA violations, one leading cause of fall protection citations is inadequate training. Every employee who could be exposed to fall hazards needs to undergo comprehensive training to identify hazards, use PPE correctly, and install fall protection systems when necessary.

What You Stand to Lose When Fall Protection or Training Violations Happen

Direct costs: OSHA penalties can exceed $13,000 per violation—and as much per day for every day the issue hasn’t been fixed by OSHA’s deadline. The fine for a willful or repeated violation can be 10 times as much.

Indirect costs:

  • workers’ compensation claims from workers who have fallen and sustained injuries
  • lost productivity due to injuries caused by falls
  • expensed related to replacing equipment damaged or broken due to falls
  • legal and compliance fees
  • decreased morale
  • negative publicity and reputational damage

Signs You’re at Risk of a Fall Protection or Training Violation

You work in a high-risk industry: Construction professionals are at higher-than-average risk for falls.

Workers frequently use ladders or work at heights: Any time a worker is elevated off the ground, fall risk increases.

People are working in wet conditions: If it’s raining or just rained, or if people are working around liquid substances such as oils and paints, the potential for slips and falls increases.

The workplace is cluttered, dirty, or disorganized: OSHA identifies “good housekeeping” as a key factor in preventing slips, trips, and falls.

You don’t have personal fall protection, arrest, or restraint systems ready when necessary: In certain situations, OSHA requires employers to use fall prevention and mitigation systems, which may include features such as harnesses, nets, and anchors. OSHA specifies the use and measurements of these tools, as well as what situations call for them.

How to Avoid a Fall Protection or Training Violation: Your Prevention Checklist

1. Have you found and eliminated all fall risks? Walking surfaces and ladders should be kept clean and dry at all times. Holes should be covered. Equipment should be installed and used correctly. A competent member of your staff should regularly assess each facility for fall hazards. Once a hazard has been identified, it should be addressed as soon as possible. Walkthroughs should be conducted daily. Fall prevention, restraint, and arrest equipment should be inspected before each use. 

2. Are you using passive engineering controls and fall restraint systems when necessary? If you can’t eliminate a fall risk, you need to ensure warning signage in place and planned passive engineering controls (such as guardrails) are ready. Use a fall restraint system when your employees are working near an unprotected edge or side. This kind of system typically requires a body harness and lanyard attached to an anchor point. 

3. Do you have fall arrest systems ready? If you can’t prevent or mitigate fall risk, you need to have fall arrest systems in place. Fall arrest equipment is designed to withstand the force of a fall by controlling it and preventing the worker from hitting a hard surface. A personal fall arrest system must use an anchor point able to withstand a downward force of 5,000 lbs. Otherwise, it must be supervised by a qualified person who has designed the system’s ability to arrest a fall’s downward force by a safety factor of 2. The PFAS must limit maximum arrest force—the most force that the person attached to the system will experience—to 1,800 lbs. For OSHA’s full requirements, click here.

4. Are you training workers on fall protection? Any worker who could be exposed to a fall hazard must receive training before they start working in an elevated area. The training should explain your fall protection policies and systems, how to select and use protective devices, and how to maintain equipment. Employees should also be trained to understand the requirements and proper safety procedures for personal fall arrest systems.
For more information and guidance about preventing an OSHA fall protection or training violation, please contact us.

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