In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 991 construction workers died on the job, with 38.7 percent of those fatalities resulting from falls. Fall protection is addressed in OSHA’s standards for the construction industry. This section highlights some of the OSHA standards,
Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)
- 451, General requirements (Scaffolding)
- 452, Additional requirements applicable to specific types of scaffolds
- 454, Training requirements (Scaffolding)
- 501, Duty to have fall protection
- 502, Fall protection systems criteria and practices
- 503, Training requirements (Fall protection)
- 760, Steel erection (Fall protection)
- 800, Underground construction
- 1051, General requirements (Stairways and ladders)
- 1052, Stairways
- 1053, Ladders
- 1060, Training requirements (Stairways and ladders)
- 1423, Cranes and derricks in construction (Fall protection)
There are a number of ways employers can protect workers from falls, including through the use of conventional means such as guardrail systems, safety net systems and personal fall protection systems, the adoption of safe work practices, and the provision of appropriate training. The use of warning lines, designated areas, control zones and similar systems are permitted by OSHA in some situations and can provide protection by limiting the number of workers exposed. Whether conducting a hazard assessment or developing a comprehensive fall protection plan, thinking about fall hazards before the work begins will help the employer to manage fall hazards and focus attention on prevention efforts. If personal fall protection systems are used, particular attention should be given to identifying attachment points and to ensuring that employees know how to properly use and inspect the equipment. The following references aid in recognizing and evaluating fall protection hazards in the workplace
Worker caught in Mortar Mixer
An 18-year-old worker died after becoming entangled in a portable mortar mixer at a residential construction site. The victim was cleaning the mixer at the end of his shift to prepare it for the following day. A painter working near the victim heard yells for help and saw the victim’s arm stuck in the machine and his body being pulled into the rotating mixer paddles. He ran to the mixer and attempted to turn it off, but could not disengage the gears, so he yelled for help. A co-worker heard the commotion, ran to the machine and shut it off. Emergency medical services was called and responded within minutes. Rescue workers dismantled the drive mechanism to reverse the mixing paddles and extricate the worker. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Workers must be trained in safety procedures. A safety procedure that applies to this case is “lockout/tagout,” which requires turning off and disconnecting machinery or equipment from its energy source(s) before performing service or maintenance. In this example, the worker died when he was pulled into a mortar mixer that was actively operating and not locked out.
To prevent this, employers must:
- Ensure that equipment is turned off and disconnected from its energy sources before cleaning or maintenance.
- Train employees in the recognition and control of hazards.
- Ensure machine and equipment guards remain in place.
- Establish lockout/tagout procedures to guard workers from the unexpected startup of machinery and equipment or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.
- Ensure that all warning labels on the equipment are clearly visible and equipment is properly maintained.
- Assign safety responsibilities to a competent person at each job site with the authority to enforce safety requirements and take prompt measures to correct unsafe situations.
Two young workers (ages 14 and 19) were killed at a grain storage facility in the Midwest when they were sent into a grain bin to “walk down the corn.” The grain bin was being emptied, and the workers’ task was to break up clumps by walking on them to make the corn flow out of the bin. The workers were not provided safety harnesses, and the machinery used for evacuating the grain was running. The suction created by the flowing grain pulled them in like quicksand and suffocated them. Workers should never be inside a grain bin when it is being emptied out, because a sinkhole can form and pull down the worker in a matter of seconds. OSHA standards prohibit this dangerous practice. This company ignored that rule as well as other protective safety requirements. In addition, child labor laws made it illegal for this company to employ a 14-year-old to work in a grain silo.
To prevent this, employers must:
- Turn off, disconnect and lock out all powered equipment associated with the bin that poses a danger to employees inside the grain structure, including augers used to help move the grain, so that the grain is not being emptied or moving out or into the bin [272(g)(1)(ii)]. Standing on moving grain is deadly; the grain can act like quicksand and bury a worker very quickly. Moving grain out of a bin creates a suction that can swiftly pull and bury any workers who are in the bin.
- Prohibit walking down grain and similar practices where an employee walks on grain to make it flow [272(g)(1)(iv)].
- Provide each worker entering a bin from a level at or above stored grain, or when a worker will walk or stand on stored grain, with a body harness. The body harness should have a lifeline that is positioned and is of sufficient length to prevent a worker from sinking further than waist-deep in grain [272(g)(2)].
- Provide an observer stationed outside the bin or silo being entered by an employee and maintain communication between the observer and the employee who enters. Ensure the observer is equipped to provide assistance [272(g)(3)].
- Prohibit workers from entry into bins or silos underneath a bridging condition, or where a build-up of grain products on the sides could fall and bury them [272(g)(6)].
- Provide training about engulfment and mechanical hazards to employees assigned special tasks such as bin entry [272(e)(2)].
- Test the air within a bin or silo prior to entry for the presence of combustible and toxic gases, and to determine if there is sufficient oxygen [272(g)(1)(iii)].
- Provide and continue ventilation until any unsafe atmospheric conditions are eliminated. If toxicity or oxygen deficiency cannot be eliminated, workers must wear appropriate respirators [272(g)(1)(iii) A and B].
- Ensure a permit is issued for each instance a worker enters a bin or silo, certifying that the precautions listed above have been implemented [272(g)(1)(i)].