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OSHA Launches Fall Protection National Emphasis Program

  • Published
  • 2 May 2023
  • Category
  • General

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a national emphasis program to help prevent falls, the leading cause of fatal workplace injuries.

The program will focus on reducing falls among employees who work at heights in all industries. The targeted enforcement program is based on OSHA’s enforcement history and Bureau of Labor Statistics data that show 680 of 5,190 work-related fatalities reported in 2021 (13 percent) were associated with falls from heights.

The new program features an educational component. It allows OSHA compliance officers to open inspections when they observe someone working unsafely at height and to leave the site after offering educational resources when they determine an inspection is not necessary.

At construction sites, violations of fall protection standards are cited most often by OSHA. While the national emphasis program is for all industries, it was launched on May 1 in connection with the 10th Annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction and the construction industry’s Safety Week (May 1-5).

Falls are Costly

The emotional and financial cost of lives lost due to preventable falls is incalculable, and related injuries are often serious. Fall survivors can suffer concussions, fractures, cuts and contusions, sprains, strains or tears that affect their quality of life and productivity.

According to the National Safety Council’s Injury Facts, falls to a lower level are the third leading cause of workplace fatalities and the fifth leading cause of injuries resulting in days away from work. Factors considered by the NSC in relation to falls to a lower level include:

  • The incident involves impact between the worker and source of the fall
  • The injured person’s movement produced the injury
  • The motion of the person and the force of impact were generated by gravity

In an analysis of 2020 data, the NSC found that injuries caused by falls to a lower level resulted in a median of 20 days away from work. Service-providing industries accounted for 64 percent of injuries due to falls to lower levels. By comparison, goods-producing industries accounted for 36 percent; trade, transportation and utilities 33 percent; and construction 22 percent.

The 2022 Liberty Mutual Safety Index identifies falls to a lower level as the fourth leading cause of serious disabling workplace injuries – at an estimated cost of $5.07 billion a year for U.S. employers. (The top three causes were overexertion during material handling, falls on the same level and struck by an object or equipment.)

Fall Prevention

OSHA requires covered employers to have fall protection plans and provide training, personal protective equipment (PPE), and solutions such as safety nets or guardrails, as needed, to help prevent falls. Fall protection is required at elevations of 4 feet or higher in general industry workplaces, 5 feet in shipyards, 6 feet in the construction industry and 8 feet in longshoring operations. Fall protection also must be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.

In addition to concerns about working at height, it’s important to remember that it’s possible to fall from ground level to a lower level. Sometimes there are gaps in floors or holes in the ground that are big enough to stumble into. Potential fall hazards should be properly marked with protective barriers and warning signs. PPE must be appropriate for the job and the right fit for men and women. Consistent use and comfort is key. One slip without proper use of PPE can be fatal.

Did You Know?

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