Despite significant progress toward reducing overall workplace injuries and fatalities over the past decade, fall hazards remain a stubborn problem. These types of hazards (which involve everything from workers failing to wear hard hats to lack of protective harnesses) topped OSHA’s top 10 most frequently cited standards list for the third straight year in 2013.
There were a total of 8,241 citations for fall hazards last year—over 1,000 more than each of the previous two years. The increase is particularly puzzling considering the severe, often fatal injuries that result from these hazards, and the fact that fines for non-compliance can be severe.
A Tulsa-based developer was recently hit with over $90,000 in proposed fines for a series of fall hazard violations. In Georgia, a company incurred $57,000 in fines after a worker fell to his death from a height of 19 feet.
For many companies, fines like these could be ruinous, so what can they do to ensure that they protect themselves and their workers? First, they need to make proper training and consistent, accurate scheduling a top priority.
Beyond that, they need to focus on areas that can easily be neglected: installing proper safety equipment in areas where maintenance is routinely performed at height, staying informed of OSHA rule changes, and ensuring that safety equipment is properly maintained.
Routine maintenance safety
When accidents associated with fall hazards make the headlines, they typically involve construction, contractor or development companies (as the above examples illustrate). Because of this, companies in these industries tend have increased awareness of the risks, while companies in other industries may be less informed.
Routine maintenance performed at height is a good illustration of this. Facilities that employ their own maintenance staff need to be just as careful about putting the right fall safety protections in place to avoid accidents.
Roofs should be fitted with guard rails, canopies/safety nets can be installed to provided added protection, and proper harnesses/rope systems should be used at all times. Inspections of these systems should be added to routine preventive maintenance schedules to ensure that they are working properly.
Staying informed of OSHA rule changes
OSHA rules are constantly evolving, making it important that companies track changes closely and make necessary preparations. OSHA rules cover a broad range of measures, with some entailing higher costs and others requiring relatively minor changes.
The recent proposed rule pertaining to the electronic submission of incident reporting provides a good example of this. Tracking incidents requires some labor and a reliable system where they can be accurately recorded in order to be easily submitted digitally. Companies that don’t have any such system should at least be aware of the options available, and have a plan to implement them if necessary.
Ensure that safety equipment is properly maintained
Investment in safety equipment is completely wasted if it isn’t cared for properly, yet many companies let maintenance on this equipment lapse because it isn’t a high priority. For this reason, it is important to have a reliable, centralized system where maintenance can be scheduled and tracked.
Care information can be found in equipment manuals and easily entered into schedule groups that include other routine maintenance tasks. Consolidating maintenance tasks is a good way to ensure that they aren’t missed without demanding too much additional labor or resources.
Ultimately, these tips all revolve around the basic need to take safety seriously by training properly and making sure that it is a high operational priority. And if the statistics are any indication, companies need to take these issues more seriously and address them with the proper procedures and tools.