Employers aim to keep their workers safe. Employers also have a responsibility to create a workplace which allows their workers to complete work in a safe environment. There are various dangers to worker safety including edge safety, elevated workstations, overhead platforms, holes, and more. Whether in construction or in industry, concerns about falls from a leading edge and what protection system to utilize is an important consideration to prevent worker injuries and fatalities.
Why concern over falls?
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics 5,147 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2017, which was down from the 5,190 fatalities recorded in 2016. Considering the 26-year history of the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), 887 worker fatal falls (17% of the total workers deaths in 2017) were at their highest level. Further, falls from heights cause more than a third of U.S. construction deaths. Of the top 10 most frequently cited OSHA standards violated in 2018, fall protection continues to be number one. These are very sobering statistics. Therefore, the concern over falls and ultimately, worker safety, is justified.
Many fatal falls are preventable. Slips, trips, and falls from the leading edge, or unguarded edge which workers can fall from, are also preventable.
What are leading edges and OSHA standards?
A leading edge may be defined as any unprotected edge of a platform, floor, or other area where the elevation between the ground (or next level) is more than six feet.
How does OSHA define a leading edge? According to OSHA Standard 1926.751, a “Leading edge means the unprotected side and edge of a floor, roof, or formwork for a floor or other walking/working surface (such as a deck) which changes location as additional floor, roof, decking or formwork sections are placed, formed or constructed.”
In addition, OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(2) requires
(i): Each worker constructing a leading edge 6 feet or more above a lower level must be protected by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.
(ii): Even if a worker is not engaged in leading edge work, if they are on a walking/working surface that is 6 feet or more above a level where leading edges are under construction, they still need to be protected from falls by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.
Options for leading edge protection from falls
Installation of guardrails may be the best and simplest option to engineer the fall risk from a leading edge. Guardrails are a form of passive fall protection. They require little to no formal training for a worker to utilize and minimal inspection. Further, they do not require active participation from the worker. Unlike anchor points and harnesses, guardrails always provide protection from leading edge falls. In the construction industry, companies have the option of utilizing a freestanding, non-penetrating 360 mobile safety rail guardrail system along any height greater than six feet for edge protection from falls. This guardrail system eliminates fall hazards by providing a passive protection barrier for workers.
Consider installing safety guardrails at leading edge transitions. For example, give thought to utilizing safety guard rails along either side of an area near an edge and ladder access point. A ladder safety rail system guides workers away from the leading edge, keeping them enclosed until they are at a safe distance from the edge.
If installation of a guardrail is not possible, other options include a safety net system or personal fall arrest system. A safety net system is a form of a passive fall protection system. Safety nets protect workers and public from falling debris. A personal fall arrest system is a form of active fall protection in which a worker wears a full body safety harness. Then a connecting system secures the worker to an anchorage point. Lifelines and anchor points are in an active fall protection category. Active fall protection requires training, maintenance, and inspection on a regular on-going basis. Personal fall arrest system equipment needs to handle increased fall distances, forces, and swing hazards.
Worker safety matters. Prevent worker injuries and fatalities from falls with appropriate prevention and protection systems.