At What Height is Fall Protection Required? Compliance with OSHA Standards
"At what height is fall protection required?" looks more of a question with no one answer.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) engages how various tasks and industries approach the risks associated with falls. Generally, workers get exposed to a fall hazard of six feet or more, and they need an optimum security for fall protection.
We may have exceptions to this rule, depending on your industry and job duties. But today, we'll explore OSHA's standards for fall protection. We'll also touch when there should be a provision for an atmosphere of safety equipment for those working with you.
The Basic Rule of OSHA
Before we dive into the details of OSHA's standards, let's start with the basics. When it comes to fall protection and prevention, there is one simple rule that every construction professional should keep in mind: Fall hazards must be assessed and addressed before employees perform any task that could result in a fall from heights.
According to OSHA's standard fall protection requirements, the general industry is required to offer protection services to its employers if the height surpasses 4fts. And for the construction company, an employer is required to offer protection services if the height surpasses 6fts.
The No Minimum Height Rule
OSHA's No Minimum Height Rule is a specific exception to the general industry standard for fall protection. This rule states that employers are required to provide fall protection systems when employees are working at heights below the basic requirements where a fall would result in serious injury or death. So, what does this mean?
It means that even if an employee is working at ground level, fall protection should be provided if he or she could suffer serious injury from falling onto something like sharp tools or rebar.
Exceptions of the Basic Rule of OSHA's Requirements
The construction industry is much different from others and requires structures as tall as 30 feet. This makes it especially hard to recognize fall hazards or install permanent fall protection, so OSHA has made exceptions for these conditions. One example is scaffolding, which can only be used temporarily, and must be properly constructed. Scaffold heights are limited to 10 feet in most situations, though exceptions have been granted for projects of a larger scale. Some of these exceptions are;
OSHA Subpart L states that fall protection must be provided at least 10 feet above lower levels when workers are on scaffolding. However, for early childhood education programs with three or fewer children, scaffolding is not required unless the scaffold can support the weight of no more than one worker.
- Steel Erection
The Steel Erection regulations, Subpart R of the Construction standards, are notorious for being lenient and difficult to understand. In essence, this means that anyone involved in steel erection activities, including those who are 15’ in the air, is not required to have fall protection.
- Stairs and Ladders
OSHA requires all railings on stairways that are four or more risers high, or that rise more than 30 inches, to be equipped with a handrail. Stairways can also be considered exempt if they are used infrequently and only by employees who are familiar with them.
The maximum vertical reach to the top of a ladder is 24 ft. If the top of a ladder is higher than that point, or if it is lower than 24 ft but the top of the ladder still exceeds 24 ft above a lower level.
- Climbing Vertical Rebar Assemblies
Although vertical rebar assemblies are considered to be an acceptable alternative for fall protection as assigned by the OSHA Steel Erection standard, to provide a safer environment for employees in an active welding location, additional precautions should be taken into account. Vertical rebar assemblies that are used to protect employees from a potential fall must be inspected before the start of work and after any event that could lead to a damaged system.
Note that this exception only applies during a climb or move. Afterward, your employee will be considered to be working in a stationary area, meaning that fall protection may only be a personal fall arrest system. This means no harness and lanyard or positioning belt, as these are for traveling between points.
Importance of Adhering to OSHA's height Safety Requirements
It is important to adhere to OSHA's safety requirements for fall protection, as falls are one of the leading causes of death in the workplace. In fact, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls accounted for nearly 40% of all worker fatalities in 2017. And many of these deaths could have been prevented if workers were wearing proper safety equipment.
When it comes to choosing and using fall protection systems, it is important to consult with a qualified professional who can help you select the right system for your specific job duties and working conditions.
In general, when employees are exposed to a fall hazard of six feet or more, employers must provide Fall Protection Systems. There are exceptions depending on industry and job duties; falls at ground level should be protected even if the height is below six feet. Falls are a leading cause of death in the workplace, so employers need to adhere to OSHA's safety requirements. Always consult with a qualified professional when choosing and using fall protection systems.
Necessary Provisions Requirements
For an employee to be considered properly protected from falls, the employer must adhere to OSHA's Necessary Provisions Requirements. These requirements state that employees must have access to fall protection systems whenever they are working in areas where a fall hazard exists. And, importantly, these systems must be used when necessary and inspected regularly for proper use and function.
OSHA's provision requirements can be categorized into four. And they are;
- Fall Protection
In general industry, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to protect workers from falling hazards. This includes floor holes whose drop exceeds four feet and open-sided platforms that workers may walk around. Employers may use guard railings or toe boards to keep employees safe. If a worker can fall more than 4 feet, a fall protection system is required.
Facilities that do not meet the minimal standard for worker heights of four feet and above are subject to the fall protection standard. Facilities may be exempt if employees work over dangerous equipment and machinery; however, these areas must be properly assessed. Personal fall protection equipment such as harnesses and lanyards may protect against injury or death by preventing falls altogether. Other fall protection methods include safety nets, railing systems, and stair railings.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that fall protection measures be in place when working at heights of six feet or more. This equipment has to be compatible with the type of work being conducted. If a worker is using a powered platform, man lift, or vehicle-mounted work platform, they must have personal fall arrest equipment (PFAS) on at all times.
The standards are different for portable and fixed ladders. In most cases, portable ladders do not need fall protection, but fixed ladders more than 20 feet in length must be equipped with a cage or safety net to prevent falls.
However, industrial ladders over 20 feet in unbroken length cannot be equipped with any safety device other than a cage. Friction brakes and sliding attachments are not permitted.
- Facility Maintenance
Employers who comply with OSHA regulations have a lower rate of accidents and incidents. These employers can also improve their workplace environment greatly. Keeping facility floors clean and, to the extent possible, dry condition helps prevent workers from slipping and falling. Workers should be able to move around any facility safely without being hindered by tools, materials, debris, or spilled liquids.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has several regulations that apply to fall protection, including the general duty clause, fall protection standards for construction and general industry, and housekeeping requirements. Employers must train workers on hazards related to falls from heights, how to use personal fall arrest systems such as harnesses and lanyards correctly, and how to develop and implement a written fall protection plan.
There is no one answer to this question. Several factors should be considered, such as the height of the area, your fall protection equipment, and even whether or not you need to secure permission from local authorities before securing your equipment.