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National Safety Month: All Falls Up

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During the National Safety Council’s NATIONAL SAFETY MONTH, we’ll be taking a look at each week’s NSC-designated focus through a construction site lens. This is Fall Week.

For obvious (mostly gravity-related) reasons, falls are perhaps the greater danger on a construction site. Unfortunately, according to OSHA’s most recent report on their Top 10 list, violations regarding them are also the most prevalent.

And, as the chart below indicates, it’s not particularly close.

OSHA’s Top Ten most cited violations

Even when splitting general “Fall Protection” and “Fall Protection Training Requirements” violations — which certainly makes sense, as they represent two related, but distinct standards (1926.501 and 1926.503, respectively) — the former still stands head-and-shoulders above its nearest “competition”, Hazard Communication.

A deeper dive into the specific parts of the standard cited make it clear why this is the case: far too many residential projects don’t regularly adhere to what’s commonly referred to as the “six-foot rule”. The “six-foot rule,” which is officially designated as 1926.501(b)(13) under OSHA’s “Safety and Health Regulations for Construction,” states:

“Residential construction.” Each employee engaged in residential construction activities 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above lower levels shall be protected by guardrail systems, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system unless another provision in paragraph (b) of this section provides for an alternative fall protection measure. Exception: When the employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems, the employer shall develop and implement a fall protection plan which meets the requirements of paragraph (k) of 1926.502.

Violations of this section made up over 63% of those given out by OSHA involving the standard and clearly led 1926.501’s way towards being the most cited violation for the 8th year running (according to Safety & Health Magazine).

National Safety Month: Falls Week Pie Graph

However, as the chart below indicates, it seems unlikely that enforcement in general increased, with six of the nine standards for which there is data going down from 2017 to 2018. Given that the three trending upwards were all related to falls, with Ladders joining the two Fall Protections standards, a decrease in compliance certainly seems to play a major role in the increased citations.

National Safety Month: Falls Week Bar Graph

Along with a massive jump in citations for inadequate Fall Protection training — which, if we can be even more serious about safety for a second, Go Here If You Don’t Have Fall Protection Training and sign up for a class — it certainly appears that not nearly enough emphasis on the importance of fall protection. Whether it be through requiring the necessary precautions to be taken or that the necessary training to be completed, organizations across the country must rededicate themselves to treating falls as a serious workplace hazard in need of almost constant attention.

Which is something that OSHA also appears acutely aware of, as they have taken an even more aggressive approach to enforcing these standards. Fall Protection-related “willful” violations — which OSHA defines as “committed with an intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and requirements,” — given out last year by the agency accounted for more than the rest of the Top Ten cited standards combined.

National Safety Month: Falls vs All

With enforcement of the falling standards on the rise, and a continued indifference to the growing issue by too many in the industry, it seems likely OSHA will continue to bring the hammer down on worksites across the country until organizations willfully adhere to the standards because it’s the right thing to do for their workers, and not to avoid violations.