Accidental falls are considered to be one of the leading causes in construction workplaces, or where workers are required to deal with heights, in the United States. All such scenarios expose workers to fall hazards – it is more dangerous without proper safety gear.
There exist, however, regulatory bodies that oversee the documentation and implementation of safety and health laws to prevent exactly such tragic events. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the US Department of Labor is one such entity working to enforce these laws where applicable. Employers in the construction space have to observe these regulations or face scrutiny from the government.
Fall accidents are so prevalent, in fact, that United States Army of Corps of Engineers have themselves inked safety net systems for fall protection. These regulations are to be established and implemented by every contractor and USACE-owned/operated permanent facility.
Requirements under the guide
The EM 385 guide is a reference for the implementation of safety net systems for fall protection with the USACE operated facilities. The guidelines include the fall protection thresholds and the kind of safety net systems required for certain scenarios.
Workers exposed to heights such as while working on unprotected sides or edges, access ways, fixed ladders, scaffolds, steel erections, work platforms over water, and installing or removing sheet piles, must be protected from falling to a lower level by the use of protections such as standard guardrails, personal fall arrest systems, safety nets, and work platforms. The conditions for these fall protection systems also include the situation when employees are exposed to the danger of falling onto dangerous equipment or onto an impalement hazard.
How to reduce risk via control measures
The presence of fall protection systems are essential to save lives, but precautionary measures need to be taken to avoid exposing workers to such risks in the first place. The EM 385-1-1 USACE Safety & Health manual also outlines how tasks and processes can be changed to eliminate the need to work at heights.
For example, moving the meter or valve from high locations to a worker’s level and building roof trusses on the ground.
Height is one of the risks construction workers have to deal with and which contributes as a factor for workplace injuries or deaths. Workers must be provided with stable working platforms when performing work at high locations. These platforms include scissor lifts, scaffolds, work stands or aerial lift equipment that enable individuals to reach designated locations.
Training must be provided to workers so that they can recognize the hazards of certain working conditions. They must be educated to recognize warning signs and be trained to use fall protection systems in the event of a life-threatening situation.
Fall protection is required not just for workers on the job, but for anyone who is exposed to fall hazards during inspection and assessment work; except when away from the specified 6ft distance from an unprotected edge of a roof.
How Fall Protection Program Managers fit in
In addition to having appropriate safety protection systems in place, the facilities must also hire a competent person who shall ensure the overall implementation, development, monitoring, and evaluation of these systems. This competent person is known as Fall Protection Program Manager.
But that will not come to pass unless the program manager is duly trained himself. Hence, the program manager must be trained appropriately so that his knowledge can help identify workplace hazards and potential risks and guide managers on how to implement the Fall Protection Program.
The manager will act as a liaison between the upper management and the workers, and assign duties and responsibilities to individuals are qualified to perform them, while also ensuring this personnel has the resources to carry out their responsibilities.
The role of the manager does not end here. The responsibilities go beyond than just implementing safety systems; the manager shall also investigate any mishaps occurred in the workplace; either through post-event investigation or by conducting periodic program evaluations.
The manual also describes the need for hiring Qualified Person and Competent Person in the facility. A Program Manager can also function as a QP and CP, but only if trained. Identification of workplace hazards is of utmost importance, and it cannot happen without the proper training of both the managers and workers.