Date ArticleType
5/3/2017 Safety Flash
Understanding How Fall Distance Impacts Fall Protection

Understanding How Fall Distance Impacts Fall Protection

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The steel erection industry takes fall protection seriously. In the last 20 years, 100% tie off has become common, even though it’s not requires. The problem today is not making sure that our ironworkers are tied off. It’s making sure that they are tied off in a manner that will not allow them to come in contact with a lower level.
In construction applications outside of steel erection, 100% fall protection is mandated by OSHA when a worker is 6 feet and above. Steel erectors follow their own requirements through Subpart R, which sets the trigger point at 15 feet, or 30 feet for Connectors and Deckers.

While Ironworkers are not required to tie off 100% of the time at 6 feet, they are not exempt from 
Subpart M Fall Protection 1926.502(d)(16)(iii) which states that “Personal fall arrest systems, when stopping a fall, shall: be rigged such that an employee can neither free fall more than 6 feet (1.8 m), nor contact any lower level.”
The misconception that our job is done once we make sure our ironworkers are tied off is leading to OSHA citations all across the country for not making sure our workers will not contact the next lower level.

Best Practices

5 SEAA Drop Testing
Thank you to these SEAA member companies for taking a proactive approach to fall safety. ASPE, Buckner Companies, Cooper Steel, Deem Structural Services, Peterson Beckner Industries, Quality Steel Services, S&R Enterprises, Schulz Iron Works, and Titan Steel Erectors, with testing conducted by MSC Safety Solutions.

In the summer of 2016, nine SEAA member companies pooled their resources to drop test the most common methods for fall protection. The data they gathered will be invaluable for the future fall protection planning on their projects. At the end of the day, using a Self-Retracting Lanyard always resulted in a shorter fall distance for the worker.
Develop a fall protection plan that reflects the uniqueness of the project. Some critical questions to ask are:
  • What are the distances between walking/working surfaces on the project?
  • What types of fall protection are available to use?
  • Can you install elevated Horizontal Life Lines?
  • Will fabricator drill holes in columns at 6 ft. for horizontal life lines?
  • Can work be performed more safely by using Aerial lifts?
  • Can sections be pre-built on the ground to minimize work at heights?
  • Will there be leading edge work (decking) using retractables for fall protection? If yes, Class B leading edge retractables should be used.
  • Will the fabricator be drilling holes at 21” & 42” above the finished floor for perimeter guardrail installation?
  • Will the contractor want you to leave fall protection systems in place after your work is complete?
Develop and implement a fall protection training program for your employees. Some critical topics are:
  • How to recognize falling hazards.
  • Procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling, and inspecting fall protection systems.
  • The use and operation of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, warning line systems, safety monitoring systems, controlled access zones, and other protection to be used.
  • Do you have a rescue plan in place for all employees who are exposed to falls?
  • The role of employees in fall protection plans.

Additional Resources

OSHA Fall Protection in Construction Informational Booklet
OSHA Fall Prevention Training Guide- A Lesson Plan for Employers
OSHA eTool- Fall Protection for Steel Erection

Help educate others and prevent injuries

This Safety Flash was contributed by Bryan McClure, MSC Safety Solutions, in cooperation with SEAA’s Safety Committee. It is designed to keep members informed about ongoing safety issues and to provide suggestions for reducing risk. Best practices are gathered from a variety of sources. They may be more or less stringent than individual corporate policies, and are not intended to be an official recommendation from SEAA. Always get approval and direction from your company officers on any new practice or procedure as these best practices may not work for all situations.

Everyone benefits when a worker avoids injury.
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