On the job falls are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries, but many safety managers don’t emphasize fall protection as much as they should. This is actually fairly understandable, given that most employees might not consider their jobs to be especially filled with falling hazards: If you don’t spend your days on ladders, climbing cell towers, or working in construction high rises, then the risk of taking a tumble might not be on your mind. The reality, however, is that falling hazards come in a variety of forms, and falls from low heights cause many of the injuries reported each year. Let’s take a look at how you can reduce falling risk within your business.
To start off, you should know that OSHA requires that the following four conditions are met when managing your safety:
- Provide working conditions that are free of known dangers.
- Keep floors in work areas in a clean and, so far as possible, a dry condition.
- Select and provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers.
- Train workers about job hazards in a language that they can understand.
While these are general safety requirements, they can contribute to your fall protection plan as well; as we move into more specific pieces of making a fall protection safety plan, don’t forget to think about how you will maintain these four factors.
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According to OHS Online, fall protection measures can largely be categorized in one of two ways:
- Elimination: Elimination is when a business practice or job can be adjusted to completely eliminate the risk of falling. For example, if a raised walkway was replaced with a path around an obstacle on the ground, or if a walking path is adjusted to not pass by a pit or object an employee could fall into. Elimination is the preferred method of fall protection because you effectively bring the risk of a hazard being a problem for your workers to zero percent.
- Prevention: Preventative measures help to reduce risk where it cannot be eliminated. This includes guard rails added to walkways, covers and grates being placed over holes in the ground, and harnesses attached to workers who are high up.
Steps of An Effective Plan: AARDVARK
While there’s a lot of information out there on formulating an actual safety plan, many of them offer hints and tips not offered elsewhere. Instead of sending you searching around for them, I’ve incorporated them into the 8 step system below. The acronym AARDVARK, like the animal, can help you remember these steps to a fall protection safety plan:
Analyze: Remember how you might not have thought your businesses had a lot of falling hazards? Well once you know what they are, you’ll see them everywhere. That’s OK, you want to make note of and catch every possible hazard.
Assess: Assess each risk factor and determine whether it can be eliminated completely or just mitigated through prevention. Separate them into two columns based on these categorizations.
Remove: For all of the items that you determined could be eliminated completely, get started making the necessary removal steps immediately. Another reason to start these measures first is that they may be more involved (like re-organizing your workfloor), and therefore could take a while to complete.
Do: Remember all of those items in the prevention column? Now is the time to do the necessary steps to correct them. This is a large undertaking, as more areas usually fall under the prevention column than the elimination one. Put up guard rails and toe boards, fence off risky areas completely when constant human travel in the area isn’t needed. Get employees the proper equipment they need to be safe – things like shoes with good tread, safety harnesses (like these Miller harnesses), gloves for grip when climbing ladders, etc.
Vocalize: Now that you’ve got your solutions implemented, you need to tell your employees what’s going on. In the course of setting up your elimination and prevention measures, you probably changed some things around and workers need to be informed of these. Pamphlets and training materials (like this Fall Protection training DVD) outlining new policies are a great way to ensure everyone has something in front of their face with the relevant information on it. This is time to introduce new point-of-contact rules etc. Note – “Point-of-contact” rules are often used by delivery workers for getting in out of vehicles, and for those in workplaces involving climbing. The rule usually requires employees to have three points of contact at all times (two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot while stepping) in order to prevent loss of balance and slipping.
Administrate: Watch your safety program closely and help employees remember new training. Remember that at this stage people still may be learning, so you would do well to play more of an encouraging role than an enforcing one. That said, if employees refuse to adopt new policies on purpose, find out why and then consider whether disciplinary action is appropriate.
Re-evaluate: After a month or two, how have things looked? Have your near misses gone down? Are you observing safety behavior improvements? At this point, don’t be afraid to make tweaks to things that don’t seem to be working as intended, or that need additional measures to become completely safe.
Keep It Up: Once you fall into a rhythm with a system that is working, don’t slack off. Always seek to make continual improvements and make sure workers maintain their safety behavior and use of your new preventative measures going forward.
The ABCs and 123s of Fall Protection Infographic