OSHA Construction Fall Hazards

In November of 2018, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the owners of Elo Restoration Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida for more than $116,000 in fines for repeated fall safety violations. The owner of the roofing company failed to ensure his workers or use fall protection systems on residential roofs after previous citations for similar violations in May 2018. This is one example of OSHA taking action against a negligent employer, and employees in the construction industry in particular face a higher than average risk of falls at work.

OSHA Employer Obligations

OSHA requires all employers to furnish their employees with workplaces free of unreasonable hazards. Construction work is inherently dangerous, so employers must be especially cautious. All employers in the construction industry must take adequate steps to plan safety protocols, provide adequate safety equipment and tools for employees, and train workers on proper workplace safety and fall prevention.

  • Construction employers and supervisors must guard open holes that may pose falling risks to passing workers using railings, toe-boards, or a floor hole cover.
  • There must be a guardrail and toe-board around every elevated platform, runway, or floor with open sides.
  • If any worker is at risk of falling into a hazardous machine or piece of equipment, the employer must install guardrails and toe-boards to prevent falls, regardless of height.
  • Certain types of construction jobs will require specialized safety equipment such as safety harnesses and lines, stair railings, handrails, and safety nets.
  • If a job requires personal fall protection systems, employers must identify appropriate attachment points for those systems and ensure their employees know how to inspect and safely use their safety equipment.

Safety Standards for Specific Fall Risks

The construction industry requires working on unfinished structures that inherently pose fall risks. Different buildings have different safety concerns, and employers must carefully consider a job site’s unique fall risks to develop strong safety protocols before work begins. Several specific fall risks require individualized attention from employers in the construction industry.

  • Employers must ensure workers maintain three points of contact with any use of a ladder. Employees should only use ladders on level surfaces, only use ladders with support struts locked with metal braces, and refrain from overreaching while using ladders.
  • Employers must install guardrails on all scaffolds, ensure stable and level footing, and train employees on appropriate scaffold use.
  • Fall arrest systems. Roofers and construction workers who work in high places must wear appropriate fall arrest systems. These systems generally include safety harnesses, warning line systems, safety nets, and safety monitoring systems. A fall arrest system should allow a harnessed worker to free fall no more than six feet and prevent contact with any lower level below the worker’s workspace.
  • Fall restraint systems. These systems should prevent falls of any kind and should securely hold workers in place while using these systems. Employers must ensure strong anchorage and regularly inspect body harnesses, snap hooks, connectors, and all other parts of these systems on a regular basis and before every use.

This is not an exhaustive list of every specific fall risk in the construction industry, and conventional fall safety plans are not always appropriate in every construction worksite. Some employers may need to develop site-specific fall protection plans.

OSHA handles employee complaints related to safety concerns and inspects millions of workplaces all over the country each year. OSHA violations typically incur severe penalties to encourage noncompliant employers to immediately rectify unsafe working conditions to prevent injuries to workers. Falls represent the greatest risk of fatal injury in the construction industry, and every construction industry employer has a legal duty to minimize this risk on every worksite.