All workplaces contain some form of fall hazard. That’s one reason falls are the leading cause of workplace injuries. Falls are also a leading source of OSHA fines—3 of the 10 most frequently cited Standards are related to fall hazards, including scaffolding, fall protection and ladders. Unfortunately, the OSHA rules governing fall hazards tend to be technical. But when you boil it down, they require you to take 13 sets of measures to prevent fall injuries.
OSHA Requirements for Fall Hazards
The first order of business is to figure out which OSHA fall rules apply to you. That’s not as simple as it might sound. In the safety industry, many use the term “fall protection” to refer to fall hazard prevention. The problem is that under OSHA “fall protection” refers to fall prevention and arrest systems and their accompanying PPE contained in regulations covering construction, maritime and other industries. Companies in so called general industry are subject to more general rules which, for OSHA purposes are described not as “fall protection” but by the name of the set of standards in which they’re contained, i.e., Walking-Working Surfaces (29 CFR 1910, Subpart D) (WWS).
Housekeeping requirements include general measures like keeping:
Such requirements include keeping aisles and passageways clean, in good repair and unobstructed. You must also maintain sufficient safe clearances for aisles, at loading docks, through doorways wherever mechanical handling equipment is used and ensure aisles and passageways are clearly and permanently marked.
You must provide covers and guardrails to protect your workers and other personnel from hazards of open pits, tanks, vats, ditches, etc.
To ensure that floors don’t collapse, you must securely attach in a conspicuous place special plates that list the load capacities of floors used for industrial, storage and other purposes.
“Floor holes,” i.e., openings less than 12 inches but more than 1 inch in its least dimension and “openings,” i.e., of 12 inches or more in its least dimension that a person may fall into must be guarded appropriately.
“Wall holes,” openings less than 30 inches but more than 1 inch high of unrestricted width, in any wall or partition such as a ventilation hole or drainage scupper, and “wall openings,” i.e., of at least 30 inches high and 18 inches wide, in any wall or partition, through which persons may fall; such as a yard-arm doorway or chute opening.
may fall into must be guarded appropriately.
You must provide adequate fall protection to any worker at risk of falling 4.0 feet (1.2 m) to a lower level by ensuring that:
Every flight of stairs with 4 or more risers must be equipped with standard stair railings or handrails of specific dimensions depending on the width of the stairway. Winding stairways must be equipped with a handrail offset to prevent walking on all portions of the treads of less than 6 inches wide.
Interior and exterior stairs around machinery, tanks, and other equipment, and stairs leading to or from floors, platforms or pits must meet specific design and use specifications and be equipped with proper safety equipment like handrails.
Scaffolds are subject to design, construction and use requirements. There are specific requirements covering 20 kinds of scaffolds, including:
As with ladders and scaffolds, there are detailed equipment-specific requirements that apply to scaffolds and work platforms that are “mobile,” i.e., manually propelled.
Such surfaces for which special rules apply include: