Fall protection is critical. Falls are the leading cause of death and injury in construction.
In residential construction, risks can sometimes be underestimated because heights aren’t as great as in commercial construction. But short falls can be fatal.
If a worker will be six feet or more above the next lower level, OSHA requires a system to arrest or prevent falls. There are three conventional systems: A guard rail, a net, and personal fall arrester. In this podcast we talk about the details of each, and OSHA’s recently modified rules on secondary fall protection systems.
If you’re working at-height, listen to this podcast!
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Dan Clark: Hello, I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief where we discuss health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites.
Now, before we get started here’s a quick quiz: What is this sound?
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Dan: Yep, you guessed it. That’s the sound of Bill Gates falling off his wallet. But falls can be serious. In fact, in construction, it’s the leading cause of death and injury.
But let’s talk about residential construction. A lot of times people don’t realize that residential construction can be very dangerous. You know, compared to a skyscraper, a house being built doesn’t seem to be very risky but it really is. Anything that has more than a 4 to 6 foot fall could be very serious as far as injury, and could lead to death.
So, let’s talk about the three conventional systems to prevent falls that OSHA requires. A guardrail, a net, and a personal fall arrester.
Now number one, the guardrail, it does not arrest falls. It actually prevents them before they can happen, of course. So a guardrail “rims” the perimeter of a work area and stops the worker from falling down to the next level. It works really well with scaffolding because you actually gain height and prevent falls at the same time. But whether it’s augmenting your scaffolding, or mounted independently, a guardrail is a chore to set up so take the time and do it right. And every once in a while, they need to be adjusted to keep up with a construction site that’s constantly changing.
And number two is the net. A net system. Now, these are pretty hard to use in residential construction because of all the time it takes for planning and set up. They’re also pretty hard to put in place because they get in the way of ongoing work. But, if you’re going to use a net system make sure that it’s no more than 30 feet below any potential fall point with lots of clearance underneath so a falling worker doesn’t stretch the net out and hit the surface below. Now, if you’re using a netting outside the perimeter of a site, make sure it’s wide enough and extends out far enough to cover the full potential range of a fall.
Number three, the third conventional system, is the fall arrester. Now, this is the system that will stop a worker if they fall off a worksite. It’s a worker wearing a harness with a cable attached to the very center of the worker’s back, or two cables at the shoulders. Then the cable is attached to either a fixed point on the construction site or a device that’s actually bolted down to the structure. You’ll see these very often in rooftop work because the base actually connects to the peak of a roof. A couple of things to consider…some systems can be expensive. Also, harnesses need to be fitted just right so the worker doesn’t have restricted movement. Also, beware of improvising. If you don’t have an auto retractor, that means cables and ropes will be laying all over the place creating a tripping hazard for workers. but a personal fall arrester can be much better than a net or a guardrail system because it doesn’t use very much space and it doesn’t need as much set up and take down time.
Well, let’s talk OSHA. Our old friend, OSHA. A lot of contractors don’t know that OSHA pulled the plug on some guidelines for residential construction. Way back in September 2011, OSHA changed a couple of things in secondary fall protection systems. Now, if you want use of fall protection system other than the three conventionals—the guardrail, the net or the personal fall arrester—you need to show, in writing, why you need it. In some cases maybe it’s because you can actually create more hazards by using the conventionals in your project. Or if you’ve tried to use the three conventional systems and they don’t work well, you need to try something else. Just remember that you have to submit in writing, and if it’s approved, you can only use that method of fall prevention for that specific project. Another site, another request to OSHA.
Okay, so what have we learned here today? In most cases the nets, guardrails and personal fall arresters will be all you need to keep your workers safe. Remember, every jobsite is different. Tailor fall protection for each jobsite. Whatever system you use, maintain it. Protect it. And that can mean covering it or taking it down overnight. Finally, talk to workers. They will tell you which system they prefer and why.
Well, that’s it for fall protection for residential construction. Join us again for more tips and techniques on how to stay safety compliant in today’s every-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief sponsored by Creative Safety Supply. See the website at CreativeSafetySupply.com.