How to Protect Employees from 3 Types of Industrial Workplace Falls
Falls are a serious workplace safety concern, and as a safety officer, you are responsible for providing full spectrum fall protection to your employees, from practical training and education to choosing the right fall protection equipment. But there’s more than one type of fall—and there’s different steps you should take for each. Today we’re taking a closer look at the three types of falls your workers might encounter and how you can help prevent them.
1. Falls to a Lower Level
Falls from elevated levels to lower levels are the most common types of workplace falls. This could mean a fall from the mezzanine to the ground floor, a fall off the loading dock, a fall from a ladder or manlift, or even a fall from a rooftop. According to OSHA regulations, if your employees are working at a level more than 4 feet above the lower level, you need to have fall protection.
Because this type of fall can occur in a variety of ways, the right safety equipment will likewise vary. For mezzanines and loading docks, a combination of guard rails and swing gates made specifically for those areas are a smart choice. This style of passive fall protection allows for safe access and continuous protection with no action on the part of your employee. For ladders, manlifts, and scaffolds, a site-specific active fall protection system, including safety harnesses, safety lanyards, and/or self-retracting lifelines, is also the appropriate choice.
2. Falls on a Single Level
Same level falls occur, as the name implies, on the same level. Although they may sound like a simple slip or trip, it may surprise you to learn that same level falls are the second most costly type of falls at $10.1 billion to companies. While they might not be as fatal, they can result in sprains, strains, broken bones, or even head injuries that can take your employees out of the game and endanger your company’s reputation, productivity, and bottom line. To prevent same level falls, here’s what you need to watch out for:
- Worn out and damaged footwear
- Damaged or uneven treads
- Elevation changes
- Wet, icy, oily, or otherwise slick surfaces
- Uneven terrain or cracks in the walking surface>
- Cords, mats, and rugs
The best way to prevent same level falls begins with good housekeeping. Make sure all obstacles, tools, and clutter are removed from walkways and stairways, keep floors mopped and swept, and be sure to clean up any spills immediately. If your workspace includes mats, carpets, or treads, ensure they are secured to the floor and cannot be tripped over. All cords and cables should be covered or stored away, and all working areas and walkways should be well-lit at all times. For high-traffic zones and elevation changes, it might be prudent to install swing gates or other access control measures to ensure safe traffic flow.
3. Swing Falls
While a swing fall usually happens when working at height, it’s not the same as a fall to a lower level. The lesser-known swing fall is a type of fall specific to workers wearing safety harnesses whose safety lanyards or self-retracting lifelines aren’t anchored directly overhead. Should the worker fall, they would swing in a pendulum-like motion and put them at risk of striking a wall or nearby structure. To prevent swing falls, you need to include the following measures:
- Keep the anchor points at least as high as the D-rings on your employees’ safety harnesses.
- Ensure your workers stay within 30-degree of their overhead anchor point.
- Ensure the length of the safety lanyards and/or self-retracting lifelines is short enough to prevent striking an object or the ground in the event of a fall.
- Use an overhead or trolley anchor point, which allows for a greater range of motion.
- Educating your employees on the hazards of swing falls as well as the proper use of their personal fall protection.
A Safe Workplace Means a Productive Workplace
As you know, safety solutions are never a “one and done” option. And as we’ve discussed, there’s more than one type of fall, some of which, like swing falls, might not even be on your radar. What is consistent, unfortunately, is that falls in the workplace result in injuries, OSHA fines, and costly downtime—and you should do everything in your power to prevent them.
To make sure you and your team are up to speed, start by taking an audit of your current fall protection plan. Do you have guard rails and swing gates installed where appropriate? Are your worksites clean, clear of debris, clutter, and trip hazards, and ready for employees? Are there unprotected elevations you are unaware of (or have been putting off)? Do your employees know the three types of falls, and are they trained on how to prevent them?
While keeping your workers safe and avoiding fines are the number one benefits of OSHA-compliance, creating a culture of safety goes well beyond them. By prioritizing worker safety, your company shows it values its employees, which in turn boosts company morale—and productivity. One of the easiest ways to bring your company’s fall protection systems up to date is to partner with a trusted vendor that can offer safety solutions for a variety of environments. If you need assistance in selecting fall protection equipment like swing gates or safety harnesses, contact the fall protection specialists at Fabenco. We’ll get you going in the right direction today for a safe and productive tomorrow.