Five Fall Protection Myths to Counteract


This story is excerpted from an article by Mark Stromme, ISHN. He offers valuable suggestions for increasing safety for workers, and avoiding OSHA fines.

Falls are the leading cause of worker fatalities.

Violations of the fall protection training standard at 1926.503(a)(1) alone cost employers $649,006 in 2010.

According to OSHA, each year more than 100 workers die and thousands are injured as a result of falls at construction sites. The fall protection standard, at 29 CFR 1926 Subpart M, details training and equipment requirements that employers must use to protect workers from falls.

Employers need to:

  • Select systems and equipment appropriate for the situation;
  • Properly construct and install safety systems; and
  • Train workers in the proper selection, use and maintenance of fall protection systems.

This article focuses on the training element listed above, since failure to properly train workers can result in injury, or even death, as well as OSHA citations.

Train employees so they don’t fall for these five common myths and misconceptions about fall protection requirements in the construction industry. (Note: The citation amounts listed are related to the specific standard violated.)

Myth #1-“Residential construction has an exemption from the fall protection rules.”

When employees say there isn’t a need for fall protection during residential construction work, point out that OSHA says differently.

This used to be true. However, in December 2010, OSHA rescinded the directive that allowed for that exception and as of September 15, 2011, all residential construction companies must comply with 1926.501(b)(13). The employer still has the option to develop and implement a fall protection plan that meets the requirements of paragraph (k) of 1926.502 if the employer can demonstrate that fall protection is infeasible or creates a greater hazard.

The new directive STD 03-00-002, Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction, rescinds STD 03-00-001, Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction, and provides that OSHA will be enforcing 1926.501(b)(13) for all residential construction work.

According to OSHA:

“Prior to the issuance of this new directive, STD 03-00-001 allowed employers engaged in certain residential construction activities to use specified alternative methods of fall protection (e.g., slide guards or safety monitor systems) rather than the conventional fall protection (guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems) required by the residential construction fall protection standard (29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13)). Employers could use the alternative measures described in STD 03-00-001 without first proving that the use of conventional fall protection was infeasible or created a greater hazard and without a written fall protection plan. With the issuance of the new directive, all residential construction employers must comply with 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13).”

When employees say there isn’t a need for fall protection during residential construction work, point out that OSHA says differently. As of September 15, 2011, OSHA compliance officers can enforce STD 03-00-002 for residential construction sites.

Myth #2-“I don’t need any fall protection; it’s only going to take me a couple minutes to install that equipment.”

Fall protection must be provided when employees are performing construction work on a walking/working surface with an unprotected side or edge that is six feet or more above a lower level. (Note: Construction work is “work for construction, alteration, and/or repair, including painting and decorating.”)

The length of time needed to perform that construction work has no bearing on the employer’s duty to provide fall protection. Be it one minute or one hour, OSHA requires fall protection per 1926.501(b)(1).

There is an exception: when employees are making an inspection, investigation or assessment of workplace conditions prior to the actual start of construction work or after all construction work has been completed, no fall protection is needed.

The following is from an OSHA Letter of Interpretation dated March 2, 2010:

“OSHA has set this exception because employees engaged in inspecting, investigating and assessing workplace conditions before the actual work begins or after work has been completed are exposed to fall hazards for very short durations, if at all, since they most likely would be able to accomplish their work without going near the danger zone… [R]equiring the installation of fall protection systems under such circumstances would expose the employee who installs those systems to falling hazards for a longer time than the person performing an inspection or similar work.”

When employees say they don’t need any fall protection — because the task is going to take them only a few minutes — tell them that in 2010 this misunderstanding cost employers $1,344,612 in OSHA citations.

Myth #3-“Training programs for fall protection aren’t really needed.”

OSHA is clear about requiring training for each employee who might be exposed to fall hazards. For example, employees may be familiar with specific types of fall protection and have had proper training. However, if a different type of fall protection is to be used, employees using it must be trained by a competent person qualified in this area of expertise.

This training must include the following:

  • The nature of fall hazards in the work area;
  • The correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling and inspecting the fall protection systems to be used;
  • The use and operation of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, warning line systems, safety monitoring systems, controlled access zones, and other protection to be used;
  • The role of each employee in the safety monitoring system when this system is used;
  • The limitations on the use of mechanical equipment during the performance of roofing work on low-sloped roofs;
  • The correct procedures for the handling and storage of equipment and materials and the erection of overhead protection;
  • The role of employees in fall protection plans; and
  • The standards contained in Subpart M.

To prove this training was done, employers need to have a written certification of training that contains the name or other identity of the employee trained, the date(s) of the training, and the signature of the person who conducted the training or the signature of the employer.

If workers scoff and say they don’t need to be specifically trained in fall protection, tell them the OSHA regulations state otherwise. Failure to provide the required fall protection training in 1926.503(a)(1) resulted in $649,006 in OSHA citations in 2010.

Myth #4-“I’m doing roofing on a low-sloped roof so I don’t need any fall protection.”

OSHA requires (per 1926.5010(b)(10)) each employee engaged in roofing activities on low-sloped roofs, with unprotected sides and edges six feet or more above lower levels be protected from falling by:

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

Other options include a combination of:

  • Warning line system and guardrail system,
  • Warning line system and safety net system,
  • Warning line system and personal fall arrest system, or
  • Warning line system and safety monitoring system.

On roofs 50 feet or less in width, the use of a safety monitoring system alone (i.e., without the warning line system) is permitted.

There is an exception. When the employer is doing leading edge work, precast concrete erection work or residential construction work, and can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems, they must develop and implement a fall protection plan that meets the requirements of 1926.502(k).

Contrary to what workers may think, OSHA does require fall protection on low-sloped roofs. In 2010 they issued $909,442 in citations to enforce that requirement.

Myth #5-“A warning line is all I need for fall protection when working on a steep roof.”

According to 1926.501(b)(11), a warning line is not allowed as a form of fall protection when working on a steeply pitched roof. OSHA requires that each employee on a steep roof with unprotected sides and edges six feet or more above lower levels be protected from falling by guardrail systems with toeboards, safety net systems or personal fall arrest systems.

Training employees on these requirements would have saved employers $447,828 in citations in 2010.

Counteract these myths… Training employees to avoid these five fall protection myths and misconceptions can prevent injuries and fatalities and save your company money.

About Rescue Talk

Rescue Talk is a group of seasoned rescue professionals and communicators providing relevant content to the rescue community, primarily through Roco Rescue OnLine. Rescue Talk and Roco Rescue OnLine are owned by Roco Rescue, Inc. These assets have been created as a resource for sharing insightful information, news, views and commentary for our students and other rescuers.
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