Safety First: How to Prevent Falls on a Construction Site
Safety is a cornerstone of any good business in the construction industry.
Workers go out every day into sites that are full of potential hazards. That’s why a construction manager’s commitment to ensure safety for everyone who steps foot on a site is essential.
One of the most common causes of injury or death on a construction job site is falling. Over 20% of workers killed on the job in private industry are construction workers, and over 40% of those happened as the result of a fall.
The problem is prevalent enough that the US Department of Labor even has established an entire week dedicated to awareness of it, called the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction.
Why are falls so common on construction sites, and what can be done on site to increase safety and prevent falls? Here’s your guide to understanding potential hazards and preventing falls on your construction site.
How Falls Happen
There are many places to fall from on a construction site. These hazards include ladders (particularly when they’re misused), roofs, scaffolding, unprotected floor or roof openings, or down stairs.
There are also many tripping hazards that can lead to falls, like electrical cords or exposed rebar.
Another hazard is any place on site with excessive noise. Excessive noise can make it hard for a worker to hear verbal warnings about a safety hazard from their co-workers.
Preventing Falls on Construction Site
The first step to preventing falls on a job site is a thorough safety hazard inspection.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) offers guidelines for inspections. Inspections include identifying how much load each area of the site can handle, potential tripping hazards, unprotected ledges and areas of excessive noise.
Another critical factor in workplace safety is worker training. Workers need to be kept up to date on OSHA safety requirements, your company’s policies regarding fall prevention, and proper use of fall arrest systems to ensure that if a fall does happen, the system will stop it before the worker hits the ground.
Here are specific tips for how to prevent falls from hazardous hotspots across a construction site:
A fall from a roof can easily lead to death. Every day a construction worker dies from a fall, and 40 are injured.
How to prevent a fall from a roof:
- Wear a tight-fitting, full-body harness that’s connected to a lifeline
- The line should be short enough to protect you from hitting the ground in a fall
- Anchor the lifeline to a safe point. OSHA defines “safe” as being “capable of 5,000 pounds per employee attached.”
- Keep the roof clear of clutter that may cause you to trip, such as electrical cords, buckets, tools, etc.
- Plan your rooftop work ahead of time to avoid clutter and tangled lifelines
An opening in a wall or a hole in the floor can be a falling hazard if left unprotected.
How to prevent a fall from an unprotected edge:
- After creating an unprotected edge, immediately cover it or put up rope to protect it
- Keep areas with holes off limits
- Hole coverings need to be able to support twice the weight of a worker and their tools or materials
- Do not carry materials that are big enough to block your vision. If you must do so, be sure your fall arrest system is securely in place
- Keep the work area clean of clutter that could cause a trip
Improperly constructed scaffolds can lead to dangerous worker falls.
How to prevent a fall from scaffolding:
- Set up the scaffold on a solid and completely level base
- Inspect the scaffold for the following:
- A safe way to get on and off
- Working area on scaffold is fully covered with walk boards for workers to stand on
- Metal is safer — wood boards must be of scaffold grade
- Guardrails installed or fall protection systems in place
- The scaffold is tied to the building structure
- No load exceeding the weight that the scaffold is rated for
Misuse of portable ladders is another common cause of falls on construction sites.
How to prevent falls from ladders:
- Follow the 3-point contact rule at all times (always have two feet and one hand, or both hands and one foot on the ladder)
- Secure the ladder at its base and, if a straight leaning ladder, to the surface it is leaning against
- Make sure the ladder is level at the base
- Don’t overreach while on the ladder
- Don’t stand on the top step
- Always stay facing toward the ladder while on it
Falls are a risk for every construction worker. But working to prevent them in these ways can minimize the chance of them happening on your job site.
What to Do in the Event of a Fall
When a fall does happen, there are some things you can do to decrease the possibility of extreme injury:
- Cap all exposed steel rebar to minimize injury if a worker falls onto it
- Require helmets at all times to protect against traumatic head injury
- Use fall arrest systems to stop a fall in progress
To further increase safety on your site, keep yourself informed about the latest in worker safety, including OSHA’s resources for safety training.
There are more ways to get hurt on a construction site than falling, particularly when crane operations are a part of the equation.
Establishing and following thorough safety protocol helps keep everyone safe. Learn about the top ways to ensure safety on any crane operation >