Falls Toolbox Talk: What to cover

19 February 2021

Why cover Falls in your next Toolbox Talk? According to OSHA statistics, 5,333 workers died on the job in 2019.

That’s right, 5,333 workers. 

How many of those deaths could have been prevented? 

Many HSE professionals are left wondering this same question when coming across disheartening and unfortunate statistics regarding worker deaths on the job site.

The truth is, accidents happen. But with consistent safety training and a stern, serious message with helpful prevention tips, managers can prevent and reduce the number of accidents…and even deaths… on construction projects.  

This blog will cover the leading cause of job site accidents and deaths, part of the well-known ‘Fatal Four’ by OSHA, Falls. We’ll give you an overview of falls, fall prevention, as well as cover what you need to include in your next Fall Toolbox Talk. 

Falls are the most likely incident to cause an injury or fatality on a construction project. Construction workers die as a result of falls more than any other hazard on a job site. 

Fall Toolbox Talk: 

  • What is a fall hazard? 
  • The major types of fall hazards in construction
  • How workers can protect themselves from fall hazards

Fall hazards exist on nearly every construction project. Many of us, both managers and workers, are exposed to fall hazards daily. 

A fall hazard includes anything on your worksite that could cause you to lose your balance, resulting in a fall. 

Any walking or working surface is a potential fall hazard. When working at heights of four feet or more, you are at risk. In construction, OSHA requires employers to provide workers with fall protection at six feet. 

No matter the fall distance, fall protection must be supplied when working over unsafe equipment and machinery.

Hazard Examples to include in Fall Toolbox Talk

Examples of fall hazards in construction are common. Let’s say, for example, four workers stand on a makeshift scaffold. The scaffold suddenly collapses under the weight of the four workers and their equipment, seriously harming all four involved. This is an example of a fall hazard. 

Another example is when a worker is carrying a sheet of plywood. If they walk on a flat roof but accidentally steps into the roof’s skylight opening, the worker would fall to the level below, causing serious harm to himself and those around him.

These are scary events that have happened on many construction sites.

Some of the most common incidents:

  • Falls from elevation or ground level to lower levels 
  • Falls through existing floor or roof openings (such as skylights, etc.)  
  • Falls through the floor or roof surface (like when a floor or roof collapses) 
  • Fall on the same level (where the point of contact was the same level supporting the individual) and
  • Jumps from structures and equipment 

Falls are much more prevalent than many think, that’s why it’s critical to have a fall toolbox talk!

The top types of fall hazards in construction: 

  • Unprotected roof 
  • Improper scaffold construction and
  • Unsafe portable ladders 

Without fall protection or safe work site access, work becomes hazardous. Falls from poorly constructed scaffolds can result in injuries varying from sprains to death. 

That’s why Guardrails, or personal fall arrest systems for fall prevention/protection, are required on platforms 10 feet or higher for workers.

The majority of those injured in scaffold accidents credited the accident to factors such as the planking or support giving way or lack of guardrails or other fall protection. 

OSHA’s most frequently cited scaffold violations include:

  • Lack of fall protection
  • Scaffold access
  • Use of aerial lifts without body belts and lanyards, platform construction, and no worker training

Nearly 40% of all deaths on a construction site are related to falls. These include workers who have fallen due to unprotected sides or holes, improperly constructed walking or working surfaces, the falling off of ladders, roofs, scaffolding, large skyscraper construction areas, and more, all due to a lack of adequate fall protection.

How can workers prevent falls?

Preventing falls is done through the use of fall protection equipment. This includes:

  • Guardrail systems
  • Safety net systems 
  • Personal fall arrest systems

Guardrails

Guardrails are prevention systems because they stop you from ever falling in the first place. 

Safety net systems

Safety net systems catch you and break your fall. They must be placed as close as possible beneath your working surface, never more than 30 feet below.  

Personal fall arrest system

A personal fall arrest system includes an anchorage, connectors, and full-body harnesses that work together to break your fall. Usually, it’s best to use fall prevention systems, such as guardrails, more so than fall protection systems, such as safety nets/fall arrest devices. This is a result of prevention systems providing more positive safety means. 

What to keep in mind:

Scaffolding

Scaffold work needs guardrails or a personal fall arrest system on any platform 10 feet or higher. It’s also important to never climb cross-bracing as a means of access. Your general contractor or the employer should provide safe access. 

Anchorage

The anchorage for a worker’s fall arrest equipment must be independent of any anchorage used to support or suspend platforms. It must be able to hold at least 5,000 lbs. per worker attached to it. 

Remember, every employer should provide workers with the assurance required to prevent falls at any job site. The first step in providing this assurance is discussing fall hazards and prevention in your next Fall Toolbox Talk!

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Sonya Sikra

Sonya is the Brand Strategy Manager at GoContractor. She specializes in communicating how implementing tech in construction can drive productivity and profit.

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