11% of KEMI’s claims dollars go to falls from height and 2% of all claims we receive are due to falls from height of some kind. Falling is a risk faced by construction workers, painters, window washers, firefighters, and others who work at heights. In many occupations such as construction and other trades, working at heights is a part of the job.

There are, however, steps that employers and workers can take to minimize the risk, and help prevent falls and the injuries that go along with them.

Risk Assessment

Any work at heights should be properly planned, supervised, and avoided in dangerous weather conditions. Conduct a risk assessment to identify and address any hazards. This information can help you select the right equipment for the job, and take adequate control measures and precautions to ensure the safety of workers and others.

Fall Protection Plan 

Laws vary by jurisdiction. However, most require employers to develop a written, site-specific fall protection plan when employees are working over a certain vertical height and not protected by permanent guardrails. The plan should include the fall hazards and fall protection systems in place in each area and the procedures for using, maintaining, fitting and inspecting fall protection equipment. The plan should also include procedures for rescuing a worker who has fallen and is suspended by a personal fall protection system or safety net.

Training and Supervision

People working at heights must be trained in practical fall prevention and fall arrest techniques. Whenever personal protective equipment is used, the employer must ensure that workers know how to properly select, fit, use, inspect, and maintain the safety gear. The employer is responsible for providing appropriate training and safety equipment that complies with safety standards and ensuring that workers use the fall protection system provided at all times.

Fall Protection

If you are at risk for falling ten feet or more, you should use the appropriate fall protection system when working to avoid serious injury. There are various fall protection methods and devices to protect workers at risk of falling. Each device has an appropriate use and different situations could call for the use of one or more of these fall protection methods:

  • Guardrails should be installed at the edges of construction sites, roofs, and scaffoldings whenever possible.
  • Fall restraint systems, such as work positioning devices that prevent workers from travelling to the edge of the building or structure, must be provided if the use of guardrails is not practicable.
  • Fall arrest systems (full body harnesses and safety nets) are used to stop workers in mid-fall and prevents them from hitting the surface below. Full body safety harnesses must be fitted properly to each worker. Although a poorly fitting harness will stop a fall, it can injure the worker who is dangling in mid-air if the straps and metal supports are not contoured to the individual’s shape.
  • The lanyard (line that stops the fall) and the anchor point for the lanyard are just as important as the harness. Anchor points must be carefully planned, usually in consultation with an engineer, and the length of the lanyard must allow for the stretch in the material resulting from the fall. Manufacturers can provide information to help you choose the correct length and avoid contact with the ground or other objects.
  • Safety netting can be used effectively in construction of industrial framed buildings. Trained personnel are required to install, dismantle, and inspect the netting. No worker should work above nets without proper training.

Suspension Trauma

When fall arrest systems are used, the possibility of suspension trauma is a serious concern. This condition, which can be fatal, occurs when a person is suspended motionless in a vertical position in the harness while awaiting rescue. When a person is suspended vertically, extra pressure is put on the heart while it attempts to pump blood to the brain. The situation can be made worse by the constrictions of the harness. Suspended workers with head injuries or who are unconscious are particularly at risk. The person must be rescued quickly (under ten minutes) and gradually brought to a horizontal position to avoid potential cardiac arrest. This is why it is critical to have a rescue plan with procedures for rescuing a worker who is suspended by a personal fall protection system.

The best way to protect workers from injury is to create a culture of safety that values the input of both employers and workers. Make sure to explore KEMI’s slips and falls resources to see how you can help prevent these types of falls in your workplace. Click here to see all of our safety resources.

KEMI does not assume liability for the content of information contained herein. Safety and health remain your responsibility. This information is to be used for informational purposes only and not intended to be exhaustive or a substitute for proper training, supervision or manufacturers’ instructions/recommendations. KEMI, by publication of this information, does not assume liability for damage or injury arising from reliance upon it. Compliance with this information is not a guarantee or warranty that you will be in conformity with any laws or regulations nor does it ensure the absolute safety of any person, place or object, including, but not limited to, you, your occupation, employees, customers or place of business.