The top indoor fall hazards for industrial facilities
Industrial facilities are among the work environments with the most safety risks to their employees. Toxic chemicals and a wide range of potentially dangerous machinery are often a part of their normal operations. However, their most common cause of employee injury is one they share with many other industries: falls.
In recent years, fall accidents have continued to be among the top causes of injuries across all sectors. Employees at every level face fall risks at some point in the course of their duties, and those in industrial facilities aren’t spared.
Let’s review the most common indoor fall hazards in industrial facilities and the appropriate OSHA-compliant fall protection equipment to address and minimize them.
Stairs are common to practically every industrial facility. This familiarity should not make you or your employees underestimate the potential danger stairs represent. They’re among the most dangerous indoor fall hazards, and stairways are a common site of fall accidents. Most stairway falls result from balance loss due to poor visibility, wet surfaces, and lack of safety handrails.
Considering this level of risk, safety regulations for stairs have to be rigorously adhered to. For instance, when a door or a safety gate opens directly on a stairway, a platform must be provided, and the swing of the door or gate cannot be allowed to reduce the platform’s effective usable depth to less than 22 inches (56 cm). Accident awareness is also crucial, and staff must be trained on the precautions to take as they go up and down the industrial facility’s stairways.
OSHA requires that all industrial stairways be fitted with suitable handrails and have adequate lighting. The stairs should also be marked with bright paint or tape, and the area must always be kept dry and clean. Many industrial facilities have specialized or stair systems (like spiral stairways, ladder stairs, crossover stairs, or stair towers), and these may require a safety gate, signage, particular employee training, or other additional safety measures. You should review OSHA section 1910.25 for any requirements specific to the type(s) of stairs in your industrial facility.
Everyone wishes to “climb the ladder” in their professional life, but there’s always the risk of falling off as well – literally. A CDC report notes that in all the fatal falls recorded in the last decade, approximately 43% involved ladders.
Ladders provide the most common form of rooftop access in industrial facilities, as well as the means to access certain specialized work areas. The common causes of ladder fall include unsecured bases, poorly maintained ladders, foreign substances that affect grip, and structural instability.
OSHA requires the following ladder safety controls:
- The ladder must be free of wear and rust.
- Workplace ladders must bear a minimum of 250 lbs.
- Employees must be trained on proper ladder usage.
- The ladder must be inspected every time before use.
A fixed ladder must be fitted with guardrails. Access must be controlled with offset metal swing gates. In some instances, additional fall protection equipment may be required per OSHA ladder guidelines.
Industrial facilities rely on mezzanines to maximize space and effectively create additional flooring levels within in the plant section and warehouses. Mezzanines are used at elevations well above the ground floor. Not only does this mean that accessing them involves stairways or ladders (with all the associated safety concerns addressed above), but movement in this section translates to working from a height. You can minimize safety risks associated with these useful work structures using suitable safety equipment and practices.
Each mezzanine platform is engineered and constructed to have a specific weight capacity. Strictly adhere to it at all times.
- Keep your mezzanine surfaces as well-lit and clutter-free as you would a stairway. Not only will this minimize risks to personnel on the mezzanine itself; debris and equipment falling from mezzanines into lower work areas are a danger to those working below.
- Toeboards around the edge of a mezzanine increase protection from falling items. OSHA requires that these toeboards be 3-1/2 inches (8.9 cm) in height and be capable of withstanding a force of 50 lbs.
- Ensure that all mezzanines have railing and safety gate systems. Specialized metal swing gates are offered by leading safety product manufacturers for mezzanine applications.
Loading docks are among the busiest places in industrial facilities, which can be a mixed blessing. On the positive side, a busier dock means your projects are in motion. But the more active your loading docks get, the greater the risk of mishaps, underscoring the need for safety protocols and equipment in these important areas.
When workers are focused on their respective tasks and movements, they may not recognize a spill or icy patch on the floor, a colleague fast approaching from the opposite side, or a forklift moving slowly towards the dock. Fortunately, OSHA offers the following fall protection standards that reduce the risk.
- All personnel at the loading dock must be properly trained.
- The loading dock’s edge, as well as railings and metal swing gates must be painted with a noticeable color.
- Proper lighting must be maintained.
- Keep the location free from ice, debris, and wetness.
- A loading dock safety gate and warning signage must be installed.
The Bottom Line
Fall safety is an essential part of industrial facility safety, and it can never be overlooked. Apart from the construction sector, industrial facilities are among the riskiest surroundings to work in. People have sustained injuries due to fall hazards like loading docks, mezzanines, stairways, and ladders.
Fortunately, OSHA regulations offer a set of safety guidelines to ensure workplace safety and provide standard safety equipment that can minimize the risk in your busy work environment. Implementing these requirements doesn’t just protect you from non-compliance fines; you’ll also improve your employee’s safety.
Partnering with an indoor fall safety expert is crucial. You’ll get all the assistance with identifying indoor fall hazards, as well as OSHA compliance and overall workplace safety.
Fabenco is an expert in all aspects of fall safety, particularly safety gate systems and other fall protection equipment. Contact us for professional guidance when choosing the right solutions for your manufacturing facility.