Tricks of the Trade

What you need to know about fall protection best practices

Kristin Houglum, a Ferguson author  

by Kristin Houglum


In 2020, fall protection earned the unfortunate title of being the first on OSHA’s annual list of top 10 safety violations. According to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, falls are a serious threat to workers in the construction and trade industries. They report falls as being a leading cause of serious work-related injury and death in construction. For these reasons, being able to identify fall hazards and having a fall protection place in place is critical for skilled trade workers.

If the risk of injury and death isn’t reason enough to be aware of fall hazards, the threat of financial penalties for employers who do not have a fall protection plan in place serves as additional motivation to be compliant with OSHA’s safety requirements. Failure to comply can result in a $13,653 penalty for a single violation, and a $136,532 penalty for willful or repeated violations. Injuries and deaths caused by falls can also cost trade business owners thousands of dollars in workers’ compensation, lost labor, and private lawsuits.

Know the numbers: fall statistics in the construction industry

fall statistics diagram

Fall prevention best practice guidelines

Trade professionals can put safety first and make fall prevention a priority by following OSHA’s comprehensive fall prevention standards. As a reminder, employers must:

  • Provide fall prevention training. Employers must inform and train employees about potential fall hazards in a manner and language they understand. Training should be a regular part of the job to ensure workers are up-to-date on current standards and are able to identify unsafe conditions.
  • Develop a plan before each job. Instead of taking a one-size-fits all approach, trade professionals should tailor their fall prevention measures to the unique hazards present on every jobsite. By taking the time to inspect conditions and identify potential hazards ahead of time, employers can better protect their workers and avoid incidents.
  • Invest in proper equipment. Having the right fall protection and prevention equipment on the job can be the determining factor in whether a worker goes home at the end of the day or goes to the emergency room. For this reason, buying the proper equipment for each hazard present on the jobsite is worth the cost.

Bonus fall harness safety tips:

  • Select and use an overhead anchor point capable of withstanding 5000 lbs. of force.
  • Use a full-body harness with dual lanyards to ensure 100% tie off at all times when working near an exposed edge.
  • Use shock-absorbing lanyards or self-retracting lifelines appropriate to the working height.
  • Personally inspect your fall protection prior to each use.
  • Never wear your harness loosely around the legs or partially unfastened.
  • Hire qualified workers to install equipment. Whether it’s scaffolding, guardrails, anchor points or any other fall prevention system component, it should only be installed by qualified workers who understand the installation requirements.
  • Don’t take shortcuts. Doing something faster does not make it safer. Taking shortcuts, like putting a ladder on top of scaffolding for quick extra height or disconnecting from a life line just for a minute, are how accidents happen.

When is fall protection required?

OSHA requires employers in the construction industry to provide and install fall protection equipment and fall prevention systems when fall hazards are present on a jobsite. The complete requirements are extensive and can be found under OSHA Standard 1926.501. In general, fall protection is required when working on levels measuring 6 feet tall and higher. Hazards that may require fall protection and prevention systems include:

  • Unprotected sides and edges
  • Hoist areas
  • Holes
  • Formwork and reinforcing steel
  • Ladders
  • Ramps, runways, and other walkways
  • Areas above dangerous equipment
  • Overhand bricklaying and related work
  • Roofing work on low-slope roofs
  • Steep roofs
  • Wall openings
  • Areas above excavations

In addition to protecting workers from falls, employers must also take steps to protect employees working in areas where they could be exposed to falling objects. In such areas, OSHA requires employers to implement devices to stop equipment from falling and have workers wear hard hats on the job.

What are fall prevention systems?

OSHA outlines a number of solutions employers can implement to prevent or eliminate hazards of falls on the jobsite. In general, fall prevention solutions include:

  • Guardrail systems
  • Safety net systems
  • Personal fall arrest systems
  • Positioning device systems
  • Warning line systems
  • Controlled access zones
  • Safety monitoring systems
  • Protection from falling objects
  • Covers for holes in floors, roofs and other walking/working surfaces

Employers should reference OSHA Standard 1926.502 to understand what type of fall protection products must be used as part of an overall system to address specific hazards, and the respective requirements for implementing various types of fall protection systems.

For more tips to help you stay safe on the job and protect workers, explore Safety Matters. Ferguson is committed to safety and has the security products trade professionals need to work smarter.

Kristin Houglum, a Ferguson author
Kristin Houglum

Kristin is an experienced health and safety professional who holds both CSHM and OHST certifications.