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Fall Protection Myths That Create A Dangerous Work Environment

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Our fall protection experts spend much time educating clients on how to create and maintain a safe, OSHA compliant work environment.  During our conversations with folks, we do a lot of listening before making recommendations, and we think of ourselves as educators rather than sales people.  Most of the time, our clients are thrilled with this approach, but from time to time, we run into the rare individual who thinks employees can work safely at heights without fall protection.  We know what you are thinking—with all of the emphasis on workplace safety and OSHA compliance, a company should never ask folks to work at heights without protection.  That said, there are plenty of myths and misconceptions used to justify the absence of adequate fall protection.  What follows is a random sampling of thoughts debunking potentially dangerous statements about fall protection. 

….Our guys don’t get on the roof that often.
This statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic OSHA fall protection regulations.  OSHA doesn’t differentiate between high and low-frequency use areas.  Whether personnel access the rooftop once a year or once a day, the standard remains the same:  all unprotected leading edges of four feet and more require the use of a fall protection system. …..The AC units are not near the leading edge. One might assume staying well clear of a leading edge translates to a safe working environment, but OSHA doesn’t agree.  The preamble to 29 CFR 1926, Subpart M states:  “OSHA has determined that there is no safe distance from an unprotected side or edge that would render fall protection unnecessary.”  Putting aside the OSHA language for a moment, let’s go back to our hypothetical HVAC unit located far from the roof’s edge.  What might happen if a repair technician tripped following a clogged condensation line to roof’s edge?  What might happen if maintenance personnel decide to investigate a potential leak near the roof’s edge?  Both of the previously mentioned hypotheticals demonstrate what can happen when conscientious employees stray from a “so-called” safe spot.  They also demonstrate that there is no safe distance from an unprotected leading edge.

….We have a parapet on the top of the building.
Rooftop parapets CAN serve as perimeter fall protection. If the parapet height is 39” or higher, and if the structure protects the entire perimeter, you meet OSHA requirements, and no additional perimeter protection is required.  All of this may sound good, but MOST of the parapet walls we see are well shy of 39” and they don’t often run the entire perimeter of the roof.  Perform proper due diligence and get all of the facts to ensure worker safety and OSHA compliance.

….We don’t perform maintenance on the roof.  Period.  It is a no-go zone.
We don’t often see commercial buildings devoid of all rooftop activity, but we’ll entertain this scenario for a moment.  That said, did you know that OSHA fall protection violations are just as likely to exist indoors as at the rooftop level?  Our best advice is to walk through your shop during different times of the day and train your eyes toward ceiling.  Do you have overhead cranes?  How are they maintained?  Do workers ever climb on top of presses?  Do you have tall storage racks for inventory?  Do workers have a safe means of access and egress when working at heights inside your plant?  All of these activities are routine tasks in industrial facilities and distribution centers.  It is naïve to think rooftop maintenance and repair activities are the only potential sources of fall hazards.

…..Fall Protection Is Too Expensive.
When you calculate the OSHA fines, legal expenses, and medical expenses associated with a fall that results in injury or death, the cost of the fall protection system is always the less expensive option.  If you have doubts, visit our post on the financial impact of falls and check out OSHA’s Safety Pays Calculator .

All of the myths explored above create a false sense of security and a complacency about safety that makes for a dangerous work environment.  Take the time to think critically about your culture of safety and how you can create a safer workplace.  To learn more about fall protection, or to discuss remediating fall hazards in your facility, contact Diversified Fall Protection for further assistance.

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Did You Know?

In construction, any leading edge that is six feet or higher than the surfaces below must be protected from fall hazards?