A Closer Look at Fall Protection: Setting the Foundation (When Is It Necessary?)

Posted by Empire Safety on Mar 15, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Fall Protection Training

When do you need fall protection? Well, for starters there is no easy answer. Every job is different and every industry is different. In fact, fall protection is one of those safety topics which most people, even experts, never fully understand down to every detail. And that’s dangerous. So let’s begin by breaking things down in a blog series called A Closer Look at Fall Protection. Each week we will focus on a different area of fall protection that is often misunderstood. That being said, you should make sure that you always review local and federal regulations and standards!

Considering that falls are a serious concern in any industry and that they are actually the leading cause of death for construction workers, it’s important to review safety requirements and standards often. These deaths are preventable, which means serious discussion has to happen between employers and employees to address fall prevention. 

Let’s talk Construction versus General Industry  

This is a good place to start since the distinction between construction and general industry requirements is one of the foundations of fall protection rules. Once that distinction is understood, the other requirements of fall protection build on that. So when does an employer have a duty to provide fall protection?

  • General Industry OSHA 29 CFR 1910 has a baseline requirement that fall protection must be used at heights that are equal or greater than 4 feet.
  • OSHA’s Fall Protection Rule (29 CFR 1926 subpart M) for Construction has a baseline requirement that fall protection must be used at heights that are equal or greater than 6 feet above a lower level. This means employer must provide fall protection if the employee will be working near unprotected sides and edges of a roof or floor, holes or openings and runways or ramps.


So what does this really mean? What kind of fall protection is needed at heights? Well, different jobs require different protection. There is no one size fits all  

  • Fall Arrest: Stop a worker that is involved in an active fall by using a harness and retractable lifelines tied off to an anchor point.
  • Fall Prevention: Prevent workers from reaching fall hazard by creating a barrier. Guardrails and skylights are among the most common equipment used to prevent falls
  • Fall Restraint: Prevent worker from reaching a fall hazard by utilizing a harness and lanyard tied off at a determined length from a weighted tie off point.

Always remember that fall protection is mandatory regardless of the heights when employees will be working at near or above dangerous equipment, such as open drive belts, pulleys, gears or open vats. And be sure to look out for our upcoming article on the updated Walking/Working standard.


How residential contractors can up their game:

  • Create sustainable safety program
  • Keep and review safety manuals
  • Have regular toolbox talks
  • Train workers on fall protection
  • Perform job hazard assessments before work begins
  • Make sure all workers and subcontractors are following the same safety program


California has current fall protection regulations that include:

Guard rails and toe boards must be installed:

  • When work is performed at 7.5 feet or more above ground
  • On all open sides of unenclosed elevated work areas (roof opening, landings, balconies and porches)
  • On floor, roof, and wall openings

Scaffolds must be used:

  • When work can’t be done safely by workers on permanent or solid construction that is at least 20 inches wide and no more than 15 feet in height, except when work can be done from a ladder. Another exception to this regulation is “work of short duration from joists or similar members at 2 feet or closer centers, planks resting on these members forming a plank platform 12 inches wide or equivalent protection”.

California may be phasing into OSHA’s fall protection rules sometime in 2018. One reason for this adoption of regulations has to do with the trigger heights that require fall protection in residential construction. Currently, the heights that require fall protection can go up to as high as 15 feet, as opposed to OSHA’s limit of 6 feet. Keep on the lookout for this proposal that also seeks to end the exception that allows contractors to not use fall protection if work is “short duration and limited exposure”.

Fall protection regulations are complicated and are often open to misinterpretation. If you take the time to review any changes in fall protection regularly and have a solid fall protection training program in place, you will stay ahead of the game and be able to set clear and defined goals for your team. By knowing the safety requirements that are necessary for your industry and your region, you can keep workers safe and ensure they aren’t another statistic.

Watch the Fall Protection Training Video Now


Topics: Fall Protection, worker safety