Fall protection

Trends in ... fall protection

One expert weighs in

Preliminary data from OSHA shows that violations of its standard on fall protection – general requirements (1926.501) tops the agency’s Top 10 list of most cited standards for fiscal year 2021. It’s the 11th consecutive year the standard has been in the No. 1 spot. Why do both employers and workers find this standard so difficult to comply with?

Safety+Health spoke with Melissa Black, CSP, professor, Columbia Southern University, who shared her thoughts on protecting workers from falls.

Safety+Health: Have there been recent innovations in fall protection? If so, please describe them.

Black: Injuries and deaths resulting from the forces of gravity, also known as “falls,” continue to be a huge problem in the workplace and society in general. Many companies have developed innovative solutions to combat this issue and implement fall protection. Some of these recent innovations include better passive systems that greatly assist with engineering out the risk of gravity, better active systems with improvements in specialized PPE for tasks and risk, improved comfort and user interface, and improvements in smart systems and technology for recordkeeping and user interface.

S+H: What do you wish employers and workers better understood about using fall protection in the workplace?

Black: Fall/slip protection is the No. 1 cited standard for both construction and general industry and is the leading cause of disability. As such, both OSHA and insurance companies are serious about eliminating or mitigating occurrences and losses. Too often businesses are concerned with the aesthetics of their facility and focus their work with architects and designers on appearances over function. There are companies that do a great job of designing safer access for roof systems, surfaces with increased slip resistance for floors, options that allow better ergonomic solutions for small and large storage facilities, and entranceway/egress surfaces with physical and physiological fall prevention in mind. Smart businesses realize that the investment in these engineering solutions pay huge dividends in reduced losses for their facility.

S+H: What concerns or questions are you hearing, and what advice do you provide?

Black: There are many businesses that are facing challenges in meeting new fall protection requirements from a fiscal standpoint. There have been so many urgent PPE needs with the pandemic that budgetary allocations have become daunting for medium-sized to small businesses. Addressing the engineering needs for older facilities, such as tank ladder systems and roof anchor points, are just two examples, as well as addressing the PPE needs for personnel, can be overwhelming for some due to budgetary restraints. The reality is that it is a “pay me now or pay me a lot more later” equation. As with most aspects of a safety culture, a risk-benefit analysis, a tiered and planned approach, and the constant effort to comply and improve your business for your workers, clients and stakeholders are imperative.

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

Coming next month:

  • Facility safety
  • Women’s PPE

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