OSHA’s Top 10 Violations: Fall Protection

Every year, OSHA announces its top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety and health violations. Moreover, every year articles are written which provide a list for everyone to read, but provide little information to teach employers and employees how to avoid these violations (and hazards) in the first place.

This is the first in a series of articles designed to provide the missing key information about OSHA’s top 10 most cited standards. Here is the 2014 list for those that didn’t happen to see it yet:

1. Fall Protection 6. Powered Industrial Trucks
2. Hazard Communication 7. Electrical – Wiring Methods
3. Scaffolding 8. Ladders
4. Respiratory Protection 9. Machine Guards
5. Lockout/Tagout 10. Electrical – General Requirements

Why is fall protection the most frequently violated standard? Simple, fall hazards can occur in virtually any workplace. Construction, manufacturing, retail, and service industries all have the potential for fall hazards. OSHA cites the construction standard 29 CFR 1926.501 as having the most violations. This standard deals with an employer’s “duty to have fall protection” if a hazard exists.

Why is this standard important? According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), approximately 2,084 people died in the workplace from falls, slips, or trips between the years 2011-2013. Each of these individuals woke up, said goodbye to their family, and never returned home.

If there is one lesson to be learned from OSHA’s standard 1926.501, it is this:

If an employee is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level, then an appropriate fall protection system MUST be used to protect the employee from the fall hazard.

A height of 6 feet is specific to the construction industry. The corresponding general industry standard (1910) has a height requirement of only 4 feet. Regardless of the industry, employers must provide an appropriate fall protection system to protect their employees.

Below are the six most frequently cited construction standards according to OSHA’s website:

1926.501(a)(1) – General requirements

All required fall protection needs to conform to the criteria established in standard 1926.502. Standard 1926.502 details the specification required to install fall protection systems properly.

When using any fall protection system, an employer needs to review installation requirements. For example, when installing a guardrail system, the top edge height of top rails, needs to be 42 inches plus or minus 3 inches above the walking/working surface.

1926.501(b)(1) – Unprotected sides and edges

Employees on a walking or working surface (horizontal or vertical) with an unprotected edge which is 6 feet or more above lower levels must be protected from a fall by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.

An unprotected edge lacks guardrails, a wall, or another protective barrier that would prevent a fall.

1926.501(b)(4)(i) – Holes

Employees on walking or working surfaces need to be protected from falling through holes, such as skylights, when they are 6 feet or more above lower levels. Employees can be protected using a personal fall arrest system, covers, or guardrail systems surrounding each hole.

1926.501(b)(10) – Roofing work on low-slope roofs

Employees working on low-slope roofs with unprotected sides and edges 6 feet or more above lower levels must be protected from falling by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems. These fall protection systems can also be used in conjunction with a warning line system.

Section 1926.500 defines a “low-slope roof” as a roof with a slope less than or equal to 4 in 12 (vertical rise to horizontal run).

1926.501(b)(11) – Steep roofs

Employees on a steep roof with unprotected sides and edges 6 feet or more above lower levels must be protected from falling by guardrail systems with toeboards, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.

Section 1926.500 defines a “steep-slope roof” as a roof with a slope greater than 4 in 12 (vertical rise to horizontal run).

1926.501(b)(13) – Residential construction

Employees performing residential construction work 6 feet or more above lower levels must be protected from guardrail systems, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system.

References

OSHA Standards 1926 – Duty to have fall protection. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=10757&p_table=STANDARDS

Safety and Health Topics – Construction Standards and Resources. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/fallprotection/construction.html