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October 11, 2013
Top OSHA construction violations for 2013: Best practices for fall protection and more

Editor’s Note: This article is Part 2 in a series. Part 1 gave an overview of OSHA’s top 10 violations for fiscal year 2013; upcoming articles will focus on top general-industry violations and best practices for avoiding them.

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Fall protection in construction (29 CFR 1926.501) was OSHA’s top violation once again in fiscal year (FY) 2013, with 8,241 violations cited. In addition, falls are consistently the most common source of injuries and fatalities in construction. So what can employers do to protect workers from falls and stay in compliance? Keep reading to find out.

Frequent citations under this standard include failure to use guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems in residential construction; failure to protect open sides and edges; failure to prevent falls from roofs; and failure to cover holes.

What does the standard require?

  • Employers must evaluate worksites to identify fall hazards, including leading edges, roof lines, holes, excavations, openings in walls (including large windows), and skylights.
  • If employees are exposed to a fall of 6 feet or greater, fall protection must be provided.
  • Employees who are working below other employees must also be protected from falling objects, debris, tools, etc.
  • Employers must select and implement fall protection systems appropriate for each potential fall hazard. Examples include guardrails, hole covers, safety net systems, fences, and harnesses.
  • Workers must be trained on proper selection, use, and maintenance of fall protection systems.
  • Safe work practices to protect against fall hazards must be implemented and followed.

If conventional fall protection strategies are not feasible for a particular jobsite, employers may develop a fall protection plan written by a qualified person that documents the reasons conventional fall protection systems are not feasible and the alternate measures that will be taken to prevent falls.

Best practices:

  • Use guardrails, hole covers, and other systems designed to prevent falls whenever possible, or redesign a work area or task to eliminate fall hazards altogether. These methods are preferred to fall protection systems such as safety nets and harnesses as a first means of defense.
  • Keep the work area clean and free from clutter to prevent trips and other incidents that can lead to falls.
  • If workers must use personal fall arrest systems, make sure they are properly fitted, inspected regularly, and used according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Provide training to ensure that workers know how to use their PPE correctly.
  • Don’t just provide personal fall arrest systems or safety nets: Make sure someone on the worksite knows how to perform a rescue operation in case of a fall.

Ladders and scaffolding: Separate OSHA standards

Ladders and scaffolding also present fall hazards, but OSHA has specific standards for these that are separate from the general fall protection requirements for construction. These two standards also made it into the FY 2013 top-10 list of most-cited violations.

Top violations under the scaffolding standard include not providing safe access to scaffolding surfaces, lack of fall and/or falling object protection, and lack of guardrails.

Requirements under OSHA’s construction scaffolding standard (29 CFR 1926.451) include the following:

  • Scaffolds must be designed by a qualified person and constructed and loaded in accordance with that design.
  • A competent person must supervise the erection, movement, alteration, and disassembly of scaffolds and inspect them before each work shift and after any incident that could affect its structural integrity.
  • When a scaffold platform is more than 2 feet above or below the point of access, some form of access, such as stairs, a ramp, a walkway, or a ladder must be provided. Climbing cross braces is not an acceptable form of access.
  • Guardrail systems must be installed along all open sides and ends of scaffolding platforms.
  • Workers on scaffolds must be provided with fall protection when working 10 feet or more above a lower level. This can consist of an approved personal fall arrest system and/or guardrail system. Certain types of scaffolds require the use of personal fall arrest systems. Suspension scaffolds require both types of protection.
  • Workers on scaffolds must be protected from falling objects. This includes hard hat use as well as the use of toeboards, screens or panels, debris nets, barricades, or other methods as appropriate to the situation.

Falls from ladders are responsible for nearly a third of all the fall-related deaths in the construction industry. Common violations of OSHA’s construction-industry ladder standard (29 CFR 1926.1053) include damaged side rails, use of the top ladder step, using an inappropriate ladder for a job, and excessive loads on ladders.

Best practices for ladder use include the following:

  • Make sure to place ladders on stable and level ground.
  • Employees should wear non-slip flat shoes when working on ladders.
  • When climbing a ladder, workers should maintain three points of contact at all times.
  • When using an extension ladder to access another level, the ladder should be secured and extended at least 3 feet above the landing point.
  • Do not permit employees to work on the top rung of a ladder.
  • Inspect ladders before use to make sure there are no defects, such as missing or damaged rungs or bent side rails. Also make sure ladders are clean and free of oils or other substances that could cause them to become slippery.
  • The base of an extension ladder should be placed a quarter of the working length of the ladder from the wall or other vertical surface.
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