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Staying Safe When Working at Heights: Key Considerations so Construction Workers Don’t Break Any Bones or Worse

Jun 12, 2024 | Blog

In this article we are discussing an essential safety topic: safety measures when performing construction work from elevated positions. Working at heights poses significant risks, and following proper safety protocols is crucial to prevent accidents and injuries.

The Importance of Elevated Safety

Working at heights requires strict adherence to safety regulations. OSHA has established comprehensive standards to protect workers in elevated positions, and while these regulations can sometimes feel cumbersome, they have saved countless lives and prevented numerous injuries. In the past, these requirements were a competitive challenge, but today, safety is an industry standard.

OSHA Regulations

Here are a few examples of OSHA regulations related to elevated work:

1. Fall Protection Systems (29 CFR 1926.501)

  • General Requirements: Employers must provide fall protection systems for workers exposed to fall hazards of 6 feet or more.
  • Guardrail Systems: Guardrails must be installed along all open sides and edges of elevated work surfaces.
  • Safety Nets: Safety nets must be installed if work areas are more than 25 feet above ground or water surfaces.

2. Personal Fall Arrest Systems (29 CFR 1926.502)

  • Anchorage Points: Fall arrest systems must be attached to secure anchor points capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds per worker.
  • Harnesses and Lanyards: Workers must use full-body harnesses and shock-absorbing lanyards.
  • Inspection and Maintenance: Fall arrest equipment must be inspected before each use and maintained in good condition.

3. Scaffolding (29 CFR 1926.451)

  • Design and Construction: Scaffolds must be designed and constructed to support at least four times the maximum intended load.
  • Platform Requirements: Scaffold platforms must be fully planked or decked with no gaps greater than 1 inch.
  • Access: Safe access to scaffold platforms must be provided, such as ladders or stair towers.
  • Fall Protection: Guardrails, personal fall arrest systems, or other appropriate fall protection must be used on scaffolds.

4. Ladders (29 CFR 1926.1053)

  • Condition: Ladders must be in good condition and free of defects.
  • Usage: Ladders must be used only for their intended purpose and must not be overloaded.
  • Angle: Portable ladders must be positioned at an angle where the base is 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet of height.
  • Securing: Ladders must be secured to prevent accidental displacement.

5. Aerial Lifts (29 CFR 1926.453)

  • Stability: Aerial lifts must be positioned on a firm, level surface or properly stabilized.
  • Fall Protection: Workers must wear a body harness and lanyard attached to the lift’s basket or boom.
  • Operation: Only trained and authorized workers are allowed to operate aerial lifts.

6. Roof Work (29 CFR 1926.501(b)(10))

  • Fall Protection: Fall protection systems such as guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems are required for workers on roofs with unprotected sides or edges 6 feet or more above a lower level.
  • Warning Line Systems: Warning line systems and safety monitoring systems can be used in certain low-slope roof work situations.

7. Training Requirements (29 CFR 1926.503)

  • Fall Hazard Training: Employers must provide training for workers exposed to fall hazards. Training must cover the recognition of fall hazards and the proper use of fall protection systems.
  • Certification: Employers must certify in writing that workers have been trained, including the date of training and the trainer’s signature.
  • Retraining: Retraining is required when there are changes in the workplace, fall protection systems, or if a worker’s knowledge or use of fall protection is inadequate.

Implementing Effective Safety Programs

Most large contractors have robust safety management programs, often exceeding OSHA requirements. These programs not only ensure compliance but also promote a culture of safety. Smaller contractors can learn a lot from these practices. If you’re bidding on a project with a major contractor, understanding and adhering to their safety protocols is crucial. Non-compliance can lead to being removed from the project or losing future opportunities.

Specific Safety Measures for Elevated Work

For tasks involving heights, such as installing fire safety sprinklers, specific measures are mandatory:

  • Harnesses and Tethers: Workers must wear harnesses and be tethered when using lifts or working on scaffolding.
  • Proper Equipment: Ensure that lifts and other equipment are secure and well-maintained.
  • Training: Workers should be thoroughly trained on how to use safety equipment and recognize potential hazards.
  • Regular Inspections: Conduct regular safety inspections to identify and mitigate risks.

Lockout/Tagout Procedures

A critical aspect of working safely at heights involves understanding lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures, especially when working on electrical systems or machinery. LOTO procedures ensure that equipment is properly shut down and not re-energized until maintenance or repair work is completed.

A tragic example highlights the importance of LOTO. An elevator contractor and his coworker were killed when someone bypassed the LOTO protocol, reactivating an elevator while they were working on it. This incident underscores the need for strict adherence to safety procedures and thorough training for all workers.

The Role of Safety in Bidding

For smaller contractors, incorporating safety measures into your project bids is not just about compliance; it demonstrates professionalism and a commitment to worker well-being. Allocating costs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety walks can differentiate your bid and show that you prioritize safety.

Safety is not a burden; it’s an investment in your workers and your business. By following established safety protocols and fostering a culture of safety, you protect your team, enhance your reputation, and ensure the successful completion of projects. Remember, the cost of implementing safety measures is far less than the cost of an accident.