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The U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, D.C., lists falls as one of the leading causes of traumatic occupational death. In 2005, falls contributed to 79,310 injuries, of which 767 resulted in fatality. For the construction industry, falls are the number one cause of workplace death and account for more than 20 percent of the total cost of occupational injuries. Falls also ranked fourth in workers’ compensation expenses, totaling more than $4.6 billion. When it comes to fall safety, prevention is better than protection. By engineering the hazard out of the jobsite plans and eliminating the need to perform work at heights greater than 6 feet, many potential fall injuries are eliminated. Sometimes, however, it’s impossible to do that, in which case choosing the appropriate fall protection systems can limit injury by stopping a fall before it happens.

OSHA 1926.502(k) states that a fall protection plan must be maintained at the jobsite. Make sure the site manager and all other management personnel are knowledgeable of the plan and know where it can be found. Each jobsite will require different fall protection systems. Capital Safety, Red Wing, Minn., outlines eight steps essential to any company’s plan: perform a hazard analysis to determine areas of risk; wherever possible, engineer out the hazard; whenever possible, implement fall prevention systems such as guardrails, handrails and warning lines; select appropriate fall arrest equipment for your site and personnel; use expert analysis to determine and install appropriate anchorages, along with any necessary horizontal and vertical equipment; determine equipment required to cover all rescue contingencies; establish a comprehensive training program on all aspects of fall protection and rescue; and include a written fall protection plan at the jobsite and make it available to every employee.

Numerous fall protection systems can be employed, depending on the project. Passive fall protection systems include guardrails, toe boards, fences and barricades, safety nets and floor and roof opening covers. Active fall protection systems or personal fall arrest systems encompass equipment that workers must activate, such as a body harness.

An audit of all safety equipment and fall protection plans should be performed annually. Once equipment has been used in a fall arrest, it must be returned to the manufacturer for inspection and recertification. Damaged equipment should be replaced and, if necessary, employees should be trained. Employees should be knowledgeable in all safety equipment used on the jobsite and should know how to properly inspect the gear each time they use it. Management also should be accountable for how safety procedures are followed, immediately rectifying equipment misuse or disregard for safety.