Fall Prevention and Protection

Falls are the most common causes of serious work related injuries and deaths. Employers must set up the work place to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated work stations, or into holes in the floor and walls.

Falls are a hazard found in many work settings. The construction industry experiences the most fall-related deaths, while the highest counts of nonfatal fall injuries – continue to be associated with the health services and the wholesale and retail industries. Particularly at risk of fall injuries are those working in:

  • Healthcare support
  • Building cleaning and maintenance
  • Transportation and material moving
  • Construction and extraction occupations

Why is it important to prevent falls?

  • Preventing falls can mean the difference between life and death. Hundreds of workers die from falls each year. You can prevent such deaths by planning to get the job done safely, providing the right fall protection equipment, and training all workers to use the equipment safely.
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  • Many construction workers perform tasks at a height that requires protection from fall hazards.
  • Having a serious injury or death occur at work affects everyone at a worksite.
  • A fall can occur in a split second without any time for the worker to react.

Construction’s “Fatal Four”

Out of 4,674 worker fatalities in private industry in calendar year 2017, 971 or 20.7% were in construction — that is, one in five worker deaths last year were in construction. The leading causes of private sector worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the construction industry were falls, followed by struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between.

These “Fatal Four” were responsible for more than half (59.9%) the construction worker deaths in 2017, BLS reports.

  • Falls – 381 out of 971 total deaths in construction in CY 2017 (39.2%)
  • Struck by Object – 80 (8.2%)
  • Electrocutions – 71 (7.3%)
  • Caught-in/between* – 50 (5.1%)
    (*This category includes construction workers killed when caught-in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structure, equipment, or material)

What is a National Fall Prevention Stand-Down?

National Fall Prevention Stand-Down raises fall hazard awareness across the country in an effort to stop fall fatalities and injuries.

A Safety Stand-Down is a voluntary event for employers to talk directly to employees about safety. Any workplace can hold a stand-down by taking a break to focus on “Fall Hazards” and reinforcing the importance of “Fall Prevention”. It’s an opportunity for employers to have a conversation with employees about hazards, protective methods, and the company’s safety policies and goals. It can also be an opportunity for employees to talk to management about fall hazards they see.

U.S. DOL – Falling Off Ladders Can Kill: Use Them Safely

  • English and Spanish (PDF): View

What can be done to reduce falls?

Employers must set up the work place to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated work stations or into holes in the floor and walls. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided 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, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.

To prevent employees from being injured from falls, employers must:

  • Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk (using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover).
  • Provide a guard rail and toe-board around every elevated open sided platform, floor or runway.
  • Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto dangerous machines or equipment (such as a vat of acid or a conveyor belt) employers must provide guardrails and toe-boards to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
  • Other means of fall protection that may be required on certain jobs include safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings and hand rails.

OSHA requires employers to:

  • Provide working conditions that are free of known dangers.
  • Keep floors in work areas in a clean and, so far as possible, a dry condition.
  • Select and provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers.
  • Train workers about job hazards in a language that they can understand.

How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers’ rights?

Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers’ rights under the OSH Act.

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If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers’ Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA’s Workers’ page.

OSHA – Fall Prevention Training Employer Guide

NIOSH Ladder Safety App

The Ladder Safety App, NIOSH’s first mobile application, is designed to improve extension and step ladder safety — a concern for those working in construction or any other task that requires ladder use.

Download for free at Apple Store and Google Play available in English and Spanish.

Additional Fall Prevention Resources