EHS OutLoud Blog

Navigating and Analyzing Fall Hazards

fall_protection.jpgWhile much advancement has been made in fall protection equipment and technology, falls remain a serious concern in today's work force.

Falls are second only to motor vehicle accidents in terms of annual injuries and cost. Whether they occur at the same level (trip and falls, stump and falls, step and falls or slip and falls) or from a higher level, falls typically are very unforgiving. Conducting a thorough job analysis is vital to safe operations when navigating fall hazards and attempting to correctly and safely use fall protection equipment.

Fall Hazard Causes and Analysis

One of the most important components of conducting a job hazard analysis is observing the operation as it is underway. This helps identify potential hazards and also allows supervisors to evaluate workers' frames of mind.

Fall hazards can stem from various situations, including: a foreign object in the walkway, a design flaw in the walking surface, slippery surfaces, an unprotected edge, misuse of fall protection equipment, physical impairments/ailments and falling objects. These and other applicable causes should be taken into account and analyzed. Additionally, these hazards should be sought out during the observation component of the job analysis. Proposed fall protection equipment should be analyzed in order to determine its feasibility and effectiveness.

The accident history of the company and others within the industry also should be analyzed and drawn upon as part of the fall hazard analysis. In addition, the analysis should consider the implementation of existing protocols that can eliminate both foreseen and unforeseen fall hazards.

If the analysis identifies a deficiency in an existing fall protection protocol/equipment, the plan should be amended to address all of the fall hazards appropriately.

Addressing Uncontrolled Fall Hazards

Uncontrolled fall hazards are those that are not, or cannot, be controlled. I am of the opinion that most (if not all) fall hazards can be addressed and controlled through a comprehensive analysis accompanied by a detailed work plan, which requires the utilization of a fall protection plan aligned with applicable OSHA regulations.

Most hazards go uncontrolled because they are not identified during the hazard analysis portion of the work plan. Identifying uncontrolled hazards may seem difficult; however, a safety manager who has done his or her due diligence in observing the work in progress and analyzing past accident statistics and other information, as well as analyzing other leading and trailing indicators, stands a good chance of identifying and addressing otherwise uncontrolled or unidentified hazards.

Uncontrolled hazards should be eliminated to the maximum extent possible.

Analyzing Impact and Acceleration Factors

Impact and acceleration are both very important factors in the identification and analysis of appropriate fall protection plans and equipment. Impact considers the force that will be applied on an employee during the fall arrest process, while the amount of acceleration determines the amount of impact/force that will be placed on the employee.

Acceleration and impact are major factors in the speed and force of falling objects that may strike employees working at lower levels. When analyzing impact and acceleration concerns, be sure to consider, identify and mitigate potential causes. The use and effectiveness of personal protective equipment (e.g. hard hats), toe-boards and overheard protection (e.g. canopies) of workers at lower levels also should play a role in impact and acceleration analysis.

Hazard analysis is vitally important to the overall safety effort as well as to the successful completion of a job hazard analysis. A thorough fall hazard analysis should indentify and control most, if not all, occupational fall hazards.

EHS Today guest blogger Jason Townsell, CSP, was named the 2010 Future Leader in EHS. He works for AECOM as a program safety manager at San Diego International Airport. The postings on this site represent the author's personal opinions and statements and do not represent or reflect the opinions, positions or strategies of AECOM Technology Corp. or its subsidiaries or affiliated entities.

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