This month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a National Emphasis Program to prevent falls. According to OSHA, fall hazards are the number one cause of fatal workplace injuries. Additionally, they are the most frequently cited violation during construction industry inspections. In March 2023, OSHA released its 2022 injury and illness report that presented Form 300A data from 316,537 establishments.
Workplace Fall Hazards
Falls are among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. In the construction industry, falls are the leading cause of death. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that out of 5,190 fatal workplace injuries in the U.S. in 2021, 680 were associated with falls from elevations or about 13 percent of all deaths.
Employers who perform work from six feet or more above lower levels are at risk for serious injury or death if they should fall. Briefly, a fall hazard is anything at the worksite that can cause a worker to lose balance or bodily support, resulting in a fall. These include the following:
- unstable or cluttered walking/working surfaces;
- unprotected edges;
- floor or wall holes and openings;
- unsafe ladders; and
- misused, damaged, or missing fall protection.
Fall hazards are one of the most common workplace hazards and can be present on any walking/working surface. In fact, any walking/working surface four feet or more above a lower level in the general industry poses a greater risk of a fall.
Employer Duty to Prevent Fall Hazards
Under OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard 1926.501, employers must provide fall protection systems where applicable. The Fall Protection Standard provides criteria for fall protection systems required for each type of walking/working surface present in the workplace. Fall protection systems must be present at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry, and eight feet in longshoring operations. In addition, employers must ensure protection when employees work over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance. Steps employers must take to prevent fall hazards include:
- guarding floor holes with a floor hole cover;
- providing a guard rail and toe-board around elevated open-sided platforms, floors, or runways; and
- utilizing personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), safety nets, or travel restraint systems.
National Emphasis Program to Prevent Falls
The National Emphasis Program to prevent falls is a nationwide enforcement program that allows OSHA to inspect workplaces wherever an OSHA compliance safety and health officer observes individuals working at specific heights. This program establishes guidance for locating and inspecting fall hazards. Meanwhile, the outreach component of the National Emphasis Program to prevent falls will focus on educating employers on how to keep workers safe from potential fall hazards. Presently, OSHA anticipates that the majority of inspections will occur in the construction industry.
The agency will typically initiate programmed inspections after a 90-day outreach period. Outreach will consist of letters and news releases, seminars, other ancillary materials, and collaborations with OSHA State Plan and cooperative program participants.