SafetySmart

How to Assess Fall Hazards

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Courtesy of SafetySmart

Fall hazards are an ongoing concern in most workplaces and include both falls from heights as well as falls from the same level. Slips, trip and falls from both categories consistently rank among the top causes of both disabling injuries and deaths in all types of workplaces, from construction sites, to manufacturing operations to warehouses to offices. In fact, the only other category of fatalities in the workplace that has higher numbers is motor vehicle accidents.

As with all hazards, the first step in controlling fall hazards is to identify and analyze the fall hazards at your workplace. This story will explain how:

Assessing Fall Hazards

It’s best to look at fall hazards in your workplace from two differing perspectives – falls from the same levels (slips, trip and falls) and fall from a height because each area is different in how to assess and correct the problems that you find.

Walking and Working Surfaces

When you begin to assess the hazards in your workplace from same level falls, here are some things to look for:

  • Overall, the workplace should be clean and orderly.  Housekeeping problems create situations where workers can slip and trip over hazards lying on the floor.
  • Work floors should be kept clean and as dry as possible. When wet floors cannot be prevented, mats should be used to protect workers who must be in the area. Safety cones or warning signs should be placed in areas where temporary water is a problem such as doorways in the winter or floors that have just been mopped.
  • Aisles and passageways should be kept clear of obstructions and all permanent aisleways should be marked in some way, typically with yellow paint or some liner on the floor.  If the aisles are being used for mechanical equipment like pallet jacks or forklifts, sufficient clearance should be given to move the equipment.

Falls from a Height

Some areas to focus on when assessing falls from a height include:

  • All openings in the floor should be guarded or covered, regardless of height. This includes openings large enough for a worker to fall through or small enough for a worker to trip on.
  • Open-sided floors, walkways, platforms, or runways must be guarded if the height exceeds 4’ or if the area is above or adjacent to dangerous equipment or other hazards, it must be guarded regardless of height.
  • In general industry workplaces, a guardrail has several mandatory components:
  • A top rail 42” above the work surface, which is capable of withstanding 200 pounds of force in any outward or downward direction;
  • A midrail 21” above the work surface which is capable of withstanding 150 pounds of force in any outward or downward direction; and
  • A toeboard 4” high with no more than a ¼” clearance above the work surface.
  • Guardrails can have openings for access by workers such as at the top of a stairway or fixed ladder.  But these openings must be closed when workers are not using them through the use of a gate or some other method.
  • All stairways with 4 or more risers must have handrails or stair rails on all open sides. Treads must be slip resistant with uniform rise height and tread width, must be able to carry five times expected load and must be at least 22” wide.
  • Portable ladders must extend at least 3’ above the landing surface, must be secured when in use and must be placed on stable ground.
  • Fixed ladders must be permanently attached to a structure or building and must be equipped with a cage if longer than 20’ to a maximum unbroken length of 30’.
  • Scaffolding used in general industry must be capable of supporting four times the maximum intended load and may not be altered or moved while in use.  All workers must be protected from overhead hazards when working on scaffolds. If the work platform is higher than 10’, guardrails, midrails and toeboards as described above must be used.

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