EHS Administration, Enforcement and Inspection, Personal Protective Equipment, Personnel Safety

OSHA’s Latest Enforcement Push: Fall Protection

This month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) unveiled its latest enhanced program of safety outreach and enforcement: a National Emphasis Program (NEP) for falls from height across all industries. Is your industry a focus for OSHA enforcement? Are you ready if it is?

Construction sites are at risk for falls. Besides construction, however, OSHA’s fall protection NEP will target work at heights that includes road sign and billboard maintenance, rooftop mechanical work or maintenance, and utility line work or maintenance (such as electrical or cable).

Falls from height are one of the construction industry’s “Fatal Four” safety hazards—the leading causes of construction worker deaths—along with caught-in or -between, electrocution, and struck-by hazards. Construction employers are frequent targets for enforcement. The construction industry fall protection standard (29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) §1926.501) has remained the agency’s most frequently cited standard 12 years in a row and was cited 5,260 times in fiscal year (FY) 2022.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that of the 5,190 fatal workplace injuries in 2021, 680 were associated with falls from elevations—about 13 percent of all deaths.
The NEP, issued on April 24, became effective May 1. After a 90-day outreach effort, programmed inspections will begin.

Under the NEP, agency compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) can open inspections whenever they observe someone working at heights­ during their normal workday travel or during other OSHA inspections.

Each OSHA area office will develop an inspection master list according to the agency’s list-generation and randomization procedures. OSHA personnel will travel throughout a selected geographic area, compiling lists of all ongoing construction projects. From these compiled lists, area office directors will generate programmed inspection lists targeting local construction worksites.

Inspections for fall protection also are weighed more heavily in the agency’s evaluation of the effectiveness of its area offices. All inspections rate at least 1 enforcement unit (EU), but inspections involving Fatal Four hazards—falls, struck by, caught in/between, and electrocution—are awarded 3 EUs.

OSHA’s fall protection enforcement

Employers can be cited repeatedly, and OSHA fines can pile up.

Earlier this year, the agency announced that a Fort Walton Beach, Florida, framing contractor had been cited a sixth time since 2021 for not complying with OSHA standards for fall protection, eye protection, and other hazards. The agency cited the employer for failing to ensure employees used fall protection while performing roofing activities or wore eye protection while working with nail guns.

Elsewhere in Florida, a 59-year-old roofer working atop an airport hangar fell through a skylight, dropping 25 feet (ft) to the concrete floor below. The injured roofer died 4 days later. OSHA inspectors determined the contractor failed to ensure a 13-member crew working on the roof that day used required fall protection.

Last summer, OSHA cited a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, roofer, seeking $249,323 in proposed penalties, after a worker’s fatal fall through a skylight. Workers were repairing and replacing a roof when one of the roofers lost their footing, stepped on a skylight, and fell about 30 ft.

In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, last summer, an OSHA inspector observed three roofers removing materials from a residential roof at heights of up to 18 ft without anchoring their fall protection, rendering the harnesses useless to prevent serious or fatal injuries. The agency cited the employer twice between 2014 and 2017 for similar violations.

OSHA and the Labor Department’s Office of the Solicitor can be relentless. Consider the department’s pursuit of Jacksonville, Florida, roofer Travis Slaughter, owner of Great White Construction Inc. and Florida Roofing Experts.

After a federal appeals court held Slaughter and his companies in civil contempt and ordered the company to pay outstanding penalties of $2,202,049, plus interest and fees, the Labor Department asked the court to have Slaughter incarcerated.

Your fall protection compliance

Under the construction industry fall protection standard, you must protect employees working at 6 ft or more above a lower level. Any walking-working surface also must have sufficient strength and structural integrity to support workers.

You must also provide guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems to prevent workers from falling. A personal fall arrest system has three components:

  1. An anchor the other parts are rigged to,
  2. A full-body harness worn by a worker, and
  3. A lanyard or lifeline connecting the worker’s harness to the anchorage point.

Anchors may be temporary, but there may be benefits to leaving anchor points in place. Roofing may not always be the last job on a project, so a permanent anchor can be used by workers installing skylights or solar panels. Permanent anchors can also be used by roofers on later projects.

Because some anchors may be used by more than one worker, anchors must be able to hold at least 5,000 pounds per person, or else a qualified person must be able to determine the anchor can support at least twice the impact load (known as a “safety factor” of 2).

Options for anchors include a peak anchor—a solid, nonmoving piece secured at the rooftop to trusses underneath—or a permanent D-ring attached to a roof’s truss frame.

At a worksite, you must control fall and falling object hazards, including the following:

  • Areas where employees could fall into or onto equipment.
  • Excavations such as pits, shafts, or wells. Excavations must be protected with barricades, covers, fences, or guardrail systems.
  • Hoist areas where employees receive or move materials or other supplies.
  • Holes, such as skylights.
  • Overhand bricklaying work.
  • Roofing work on both steep- and low-sloped roofs.
  • Unprotected sides and edges of walking-working surfaces.
  • Walking-working surfaces more than 6 ft above a lower level.
  • Wall openings.
  • Work involving precast concrete erection—erecting beams, columns, floor and roof tees, and wall panels.
  • Working on formwork or reinforcing steel.

You need to protect your employees and subcontractors’ employees from falling objects, ensuring every person on the worksite is wearing a hard hat. You may need to take additional steps to protect workers from falling materials or tools.

Your options include the following:

  • Installing guardrails, screens, or toeboards to prevent objects from falling to a lower level;
  • Putting a canopy in place to keep objects from going over the edge of a higher level; or
  • Creating a barricade around areas where objects might fall and prohibiting workers from entering that area.

You should have workers carefully stage materials so they can have quick and easy access to materials without tripping over them. Materials and tools can pose a tripping hazard in addition to their struck-by hazards, but a slide guard can prevent objects from sliding off a roof.

Ladders and scaffolds

Falls from ladders and scaffolds can also endanger your employees. OSHA’s ladders standard (§1926.1053) is its fourth most frequently cited standard, cited 2,143 times in FY 2022. The scaffolding standard (§1926.451) is the agency’s fifth most frequently cited standard, cited 2,058 times.

The ladders standard covers fixed ladders, portable ladders like A-frame stepladders and adjustable-height extension ladders, and job-made ladders (wooden ladders built and installed at a jobsite rather than commercially manufactured ones).

You must have a competent person, someone capable of identifying obvious and predictable hazards and authorized to inspect them, inspect all ladders for defects.

Commercial ladders are graded for specific uses and loads in accordance with nonmandatory American National Standards Institute (ANSI) consensus standards. You should ensure your employees use the ladder with the appropriate rating for their assigned tasks.

Temporary job-made ladders, which are used until permanent stairways or fixed ladders can be installed, must be made using construction-grade lumber and include properly fastened and spaced side rails, cleats/steps, and filler blocks inserted between cleats. Your workers who use job-made ladders at a site shouldn’t carry any objects or loads that would cause them to lose their balance and fall.

Portable ladders such as extension ladders or stepladders should be placed on a stable, nonslippery surface. Ladder spreaders should remain locked during use, and stepladders should never be used folded or placed horizontally like a platform.

When climbing or descending a ladder, your workers should face the ladder and maintain a three-point contact with the ladder with either two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot. Also, workers should never carry tools or tool belts by hand.

Both the ladders and scaffolds standards apply when extension ladders are rigged into a ladder jack scaffold.

The advantages of ladder jack scaffolds include their cost-effectiveness, portability, ability to be quickly erected and dismantled, and adaptability for use in narrow spaces at a worksite. Triangle-shaped brackets called “ladder jacks” are attached to portable extension ladders and placed on each side of a ladder jack scaffold to form a
means of support for a platform.

Workers on scaffolds at heights of 10 ft or more must have both a guardrail and a personal fall arrest system. Body harnesses used in personal fall arrest systems on a scaffold must be secured by a lanyard to a horizontal or vertical lifeline or scaffold structural member.

You need to use a scaffold that’s appropriate for the job and inspect the scaffold, site conditions, and work area before permitting workers to use a scaffold.


There’s also a separate OSHA standard for fall protection training (§1926.503), and it’s the agency’s eighth most frequently cited standard. OSHA cited 1,556 violations of its fall protection training requirements in FY 2022.

Key elements of an effective fall protection training include the following:

  • The nature of fall hazards on the job and the correct operation and use of fall protection systems;
  • How to correctly erect, inspect, maintain, and disassemble guardrail, personal fall arrest, and safety net systems; and
  • Proper handling and storage of equipment and materials, as well as how to install overhead protection.

You need to retrain employees whenever there are changes in the equipment or systems used. You also must keep written records certifying worker fall protection training that include employees’ names, the date of training, and a trainer’s signature.

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