Fall Protection: An Update

Fall protection issues made a “Top Ten” list again, but that’s not a good thing. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Fall Protection Standard (1926.501) ranks first on OSHA’s latest top ten list for most frequently cited standards and citations.

More serious are the losses incurred by workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also reports that in 2015, approximately 4,800 workers perished while working. Of those fatalities, more than 900 (over 21%) were in the construction industry. Also, unfortunately again, falls were the leading cause of these fatalities – with about 350 (more than 38%) directly related to falling to a lower level. OSHA believes that these fatalities are totally preventable. (1)

Additionally, the financial costs are staggering. In 2014, the Liberty Mutual Index reported that workers’ compensation losses of almost $60 billion were paid for worker injuries involving more than six days of lost time. Surprisingly, this is actually lower than the $60+ billion in 2013 – with falls accounting for more than 27% of the total (or about $17 billion). (2)

How is OSHA Addressing the Issues?

So, in addition to issuing citations, what else is OSHA doing to address these issues? Almost a year ago, OSHA issued a final rule updating the General Industry “Working and Walking Surfaces and Fall Protection” standard to align it with the construction industry requirements. The training component of the revised standard became effective in 2017, with several more parts taking effect by the end of this year and in 2018.

Additionally, since 2012 OSHA has partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA)–Construction Sector on the “Fall Prevention Campaign” to raise awareness among workers and employers about common fall hazards in construction. Specifically, how falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs can be prevented. OSHA’s suggestions are simple and straightforward:

  • Plan the job: assess the need for fall protection equipment types and personnel to do the work safely
  • Provide the right equipment: ladders, platforms and personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) should meet current
    manufacturer standards
  • Training: ensure everyone on the job is trained appropriately for working at heights – recognizing and preventing hazards as well as working with the PFAS (3)

What Has Been Done?

However, some industry experts believe that OSHA requirements are actually still lacking because of the absence of more detailed specific requirements in many areas. The good news is that OSHA can rely on voluntary consensus standards to provide the updated information needed to ensure compliance and worker safety.

Since 1992, ANSI (American National Standards Institute) has teamed with the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) to provide a consistent framework for these standards – starting with the 1992 version of the ANSI/ASSE standard Z359.1 “Fall Protection Code”, which first included requirements for fall arrest systems. A major revision of this same standard in 2007 (Z359.2) included more of a “management system” approach, requiring written procedures for fall protection programs. Site surveys, hazard assessments and training are among the more important requirements.

Additionally, since the 2007 revisions, there have been numerous additional important clarifications of the
original standards, including, but not limited to:

  • Z359.0 – defining terms used throughout all Z359 standards
  • Z359.3 – covering positioning and restraint equipment
  • Z359.4 – dealing with rescue systems

The Updated Fall Protection Code

After almost a decade and about a dozen new standards/revisions/clarifications, the ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2016 Fall Protection Code became effective in August 2017. This latest compilation of all the related standards should close some of the gaps from the last 10 years, including specific manufacturer standards/requirements for the actual personal fall arrest systems. The intended purpose was to spotlight manufacturers of this equipment more than the end users; however, employers should be aware that equipment meeting the end of its service life must be replaced with new updated versions to ensure compliance and, of course, worker safety.

The forward to the new ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2016 standard provides an overview of the compilation of all of the current ANSI/ASSE fall protection standards. “The Fall Protection Code” now covers program management; system design; training; qualification and testing; and equipment, component and system specifications for the processes used to protect workers at height in a managed fall protection program. “This standard identifies those standards and establishes their role in the Code and their interdependence.” (4)

The revised Fall Protection Code encompasses standards for personal fall protection systems that incorporate a full body harness, intended to protect the user against falls from a height – either by preventing or arresting free falls. The types of systems that are addressed by the Code include:

  • Fall restraint systems
  • Work positioning systems
  • Rope access systems
  • Fall arrest systems
  • Rescue systems

With all of the new standards, updates and revisions, etc., it’s not surprising that many smaller employers that overlap general industry and construction struggle to comply. The good news is that these updates allow employers to use their judgment when it comes to providing fall protection systems and hopefully these clarifications will pave the way for worker safety – as well as reduced injuries, fatalities and related insurance costs. [The full list of standards can be found at www.ansi.org.]


(1) https://www.osha.gov/walking-working-surfaces/index.html
(2) https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2017/01/20/439400.htm
(3) https://www.osha.gov/stopfalls/
(4) http://www.asse.org/departments/books/fall_protection/