Building an Effective Fall Protection Program

Author, Daniel Frazee, Executive Vice President, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.


In a Census, summarizing fatal occupational injuries from 2016, those originating from falls continued a steady upward trend that began in 2011 and increased another 6% in 2016.  More specifically, falls increased more than 25% for roofers, painters, carpenters, tree trimmers & pruners.  Since 2013, fall protection citations have been #1 or #2 on OSHA’s most cited violations.  Now, more than ever, it is essential for employers with personnel who work at heights to provide comprehensive fall protection.

Job Hazard Analysis

While developing any type of new safety program, experts encourage breaking the process into steps.  These steps must be designed for all construction sites where exposure to height exists.  And the plan must be prepared by a competent (qualified) person, defined as someone with extensive knowledge and training on fall protection systems.  The initial step requires a job hazard analysis to be performed at the location in advance of work commencing.  The analysis can include determining the average & maximum height at which work will be performed, identifying the number of employees using the area, observing potential hazards that might compromise the work, and modifying work to reduce exposure.  According to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), “the most desirable form of protection is elimination of the need to work from height” (Z359.2, section 5.1). 

Types of Fall-Arrest Systems

Assuming hazards cannot be eliminated and the need to work from height still exists, employers can implement both passive and active fall-arrest systems.  Passive systems can include examples such as guardrails or ladder cages while the more technical active fall-restraint systems can use specialized lanyards and anchors to eliminate fall exposure.  These require individualized training that is crucial for proper use and effectiveness.

Proper Implementation & Calculating Fall Clearance

Once you have identified the appropriate system for the jobsite, the implementation is critical to the success of the program.  Using the more complex active fall-arrest system as an example, employers can track their progress with four steps:

  • Anchorage-the secure point of attachment to the fall arrest system.  The structure must be capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds/worker or meet OSHA’s criteria of a 2:1 safety factor.
  • Body Support-the connection point to the anchorage, commonly seen with a full body harness that distributes the forces of a fall over the chest, shoulders, pelvis & thighs.
  • Connectors-examples include lanyards and self-retracting lifelines, devices that connect or link the harness to the anchorage.
  • Descent & Rescue-all good fall protection programs must have a plan for rescue or retrieval of a fallen worker.  Employees need to be raised or lowered to a safe location when needed.

As employers build out their fall-arrest system, calculating fall clearance and swing fall hazards represent key components to a successful program.  In part, this can be achieved by determining sufficient clearance below the worker to stop the fall before he/she hits the ground or another object.  It should include an awareness of the anchorage location, the connecting system, deceleration distance, the height of the suspended worker, etc.

Training, Training, Training

Formal, written training programs only become effective tools when employers combine classroom knowledge with practical, hands-on experience.  Competent persons need to continually educate workers on industry regulations, proper equipment selection/use and ongoing maintenance standards.  This must be emphasized on a consistent basis so that workers understand the importance of fall protection as it relates to their own safety and that of the company.

Improving Your Risk Profile

Without argument, the most important reason for introducing a Fall Protection program is the safety and well-being of your employees.  Getting workers home safely at the end of every work day remains every employer’s ultimate goal.  A second goal for consideration is that of improving your company’s risk profile to the insurance marketplace.  If your construction firm performs work in excess of 2 stories, underwriters expect to see details on your Fall Protection program.   While just one aspect of a Best Practices renewal strategy, providing a copy of your program with training examples and site specific layouts can give insurance company underwriters the comfort level they need to deliver more competitive quote proposals. Allowing your insurance broker these reference points can help them engage more options which can lead to better terms and pricing, and lower overall insurance costs for your company.

As your company builds out safety modules and looks to refresh or develop new a Fall Protection program, look to Rancho Mesa Insurance and their Risk Management Center (RMC) for assistance.  The RMC contains endless content, program templates and resources for our construction partners.  Additionally, the Agency’s monthly offerings of industry specific trainings and webinars provides the education our clients need to stay ahead of their competition.

For more information about fall protection, contact Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc. at (619) 937-0164.