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Five Fall Protection Myths

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Many people fear activities that involve heights because of the chance of falling. Heights can be scary for people even if they are safe in a building or an airplane—or even if they’re doing home projects, like painting or cleaning out gutters, from a ladder or the roof.

On the construction job site, the same fears exist. In 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 816 construction workers died on the job, with 34% of those fatalities resulting from falls.

There are many questions in the workaday world when it comes to fall protection equipment, such as if and when it’s needed and how to use the equipment when it is needed. It can be confusing. Below are five fall protection myths and the truth surrounding them.

Myth #1: When using a ladder more than 6′ tall, I need fall protection.
Actually, no. This is one of the few exceptions. Due to the portability of ladders, fall protection equipment isn’t required. Trying to find an anchor point to tie off to could prove to be difficult.

Myth #2: I’m only a few feet off the ground, so I don’t need fall protection.
Wrong. Even though you are only a few feet off the ground, if you are 6′ above the surface, fall protection is required, unless (as mentioned above) you are on a portable ladder. This is according to OSHA’s Fall Protection standard 1926.501(b)(1) “Unprotected sides and edges.” Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6′ (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.

Myth #3: I can connect multiple lanyards to one anchor point.
This is not a good idea. OSHA and the manufacturers of these products frown upon connecting more than one lanyard to an anchor point, such as a concrete anchorage connector or a grip. According to Miller Fall Protection, a manufacturer of fall protection equipment, when two lanyards are connected to one anchor point, the possibility of rollout or accidental disengagement goes up considerably.

Myth #4: If you are a residential roofer, you don’t have to have fall protection.
OSHA has withdrawn the compliance directive related to the Residential Roofing Fall Protection Exception issued in 1995. On Dec. 22, 2010, a new compliance directive was established due to a high number of fall-related deaths in construction. The previous directive allowed residential builders to bypass certain fall protection requirements. Under the new policy, employers engaged in residential construction must comply with the OSHA Standard 29 1926.501(b)(13) and, therefore, also familiarize themselves with the term and definition of “residential construction.” The term is now interpreted as covering construction work that satisfies two elements:

  1. The end-use of the structure being built must be a home (e.g. a dwelling).
  2. The structure being built must be constructed using traditional wood frame construction materials and methods. The limited use of structural steel in a predominantly wood-framed home, such as a steel I-beam to help support wood framing, does not disqualify a structure from being considered residential construction.

Workers engaged in residential construction 6′ or more above lower levels must be protected by conventional fall protection (i.e., guardrail systems, safety net systems or personal fall arrest systems) or alternative fall protection measures allowed under 1926.501(b) for particular types of work. The compliance date for the new directive for the affected builders was June 16, 2011.

Myth #5: Body belts are still sold. They must be OK for fall protection.
Body belts used to be used as fall protection gear. Now they can only be used in positioning applications and are not to be used for vertical free fall protection. OSHA defines “positioning” in 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart M (Fall Protection); a “positioning device” is defined in §1926.500(b) as “a body belt or body harness system rigged to allow an employee to be supported on an elevated vertical surface, such as a wall, and work with both hands free while leaning [emphasis added].” These devices are designed specifically to stop a worker from falling from a static, head-up position.

In any situation or occupation where falls may occur, it is important for employees to be trained in fall protection. OSHA regulations state, “The employer shall provide a training program for each employee who might be exposed to fall hazards. The program shall enable each employee to recognize the hazards of falling and shall train each employee in the procedures to be followed in order to minimize these hazards. The employer shall ensure that each employee has been trained, as necessary, by a competent person…”

The fear of falling may never go away, but improving safety with the proper training and equipment can help calm nerves and reduce the chances of injury or death from a fall.