Design a Solid 5-Point Fall Protection Plan to Keep Employees Safe at Heights

Design a Solid 5-Point Fall Protection Plan to Keep Employees Safe at Heights

While OSHA has set forth a comprehensive set of standards regarding fall protection, it remains one of the foremost ongoing concerns for the agency. All maritime facilities need to have a clear approach to compliance, mandating a set of safety procedures and strategies intended to keep employees safe.

Among ALMA members, there was an average of 2,444 fall, slip, or trip occurrences for the years 2014-2017, incurring an average cost of $31,011 per occurrence. At AEU, we firmly believe that 100% of fall-related injuries are preventable. 

The maritime industry has access to all the standards, procedures and guidelines from OSHA, and everyone wants to do take measures to keep workers safe when working at heights. Maritime facility operators can take safety to the next level by developing a thoughtful and meaningful plan that makes everyone more attentive, engaged, and accountable. Using some basic philosophies and strategies can greatly improve your maritime facility safety and let your employees know their well-being is your priority.

Here are considerations for a solid 5-point fall protection plan. 

  1. Assess your facility to determine the high fall risk areas
    The hazards in shipyards, marine cargo handling facilities and other maritime work settings are abundant and varied. It is crucial that the company stays abreast of all the latest standards and regulations mandated by OSHA.

    With that information in mind, a review of the work area should be conducted to identify fall hazards that may include: 
    • Lack of—or poorly maintained—guard rails or barriers
    • Inadequate, improper or no training for use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
    • Non-maintained ladders, scaffolding or catwalks
    • Improper use of aerial lifts, forklift man-baskets or scissor lifts 
    • Unmarked height hazard zones that require special warnings
    • Cliff stow cargo in the ship or in the terminal
    • Any exposure to unguarded edges
  2. Know the hierarchy of controls for fall protection
    It is the preferred order of control to eliminate fall injuries. As the hierarchy progresses from 1 to 5, so does the risk of fall injury. 
    1. Eliminate the Fall Hazard – use tools with long handles, lower the work, preplan the job process to eliminate the need for workers to leave ground level.
    2. Use Passive Fall Protection – install physical barriers like guardrails, protect foot level openings with cages, cover manholes and other proactive methods.
    3. Implement Fall Restraint Systems – use personal protective systems to restrict the worker’s range of movement so they cannot fall. There is training required using this approach. 
    4. Require Fall Restraint Systems – use personal protective equipment to arrest a fall within acceptable force and clearance margins. There is training and rescue planning required with this approach.
    5. Practice Administrative Controls – this is the least preferred solution and is generally not recommended. It should only be used in specific cases where the other four approaches are not feasible. It is practices or procedures that increase the worker’s awareness of a fall hazard. Examples are caution tape to warn workers of an unprotected edge or spotters that warn workers a fall hazard. 
  3. Focus on the degree of tolerance necessary when it comes to accomplishing tasks at heights
    When all is said and done, workers should keep their feet planted on the ground whenever possible—even when using the best PPE available. The highest quality harness and self-retracting lanyards can’t undo one misstep or inadequate training—or the effects of suspension trauma—so it is always best to seek a safer option.

    However, there are not always ground-based workarounds when employees need to work at elevations.

    Still, it is highly recommended that risk assessments are performed for all work done at elevations, focusing on the level of risk tolerance necessary. It is important to continually search for ways to keep your employees as close to solid ground as possible.

  4. Include your workers in the safety process
    Your employees are in the best position to identify all exposure to fall hazards, so make sure they know you want them to voice all concerns when it comes to safety, especially working at elevations. Workers in the yard and on marine terminals have a good perspective and insight to identify and correct specific fall hazards.

    Provide frequent technical training and educational session that teach the worker that working around unprotected edges is unacceptable. Ask them to pair their safety training with their own observations, such as whether a ladder is used improperly or that a guardrail needs repair. 

    Keep in mind that employees may feel worried that they are overstepping boundaries when reporting safety concerns, so reassure them that their insight is welcome and essential to keeping everyone safe.

  5. Create a culture where there is full compliance with fall hazard safety
    While it is important to include your employees in the incident prevention program, the employer is primarily responsible for safety of its workers. Make sure employees know how serious non-compliance can be and that injury prevention is a key part of your culture. 

    Some workers may have taken risks at work previously and never suffered injury. Maybe they used a ladder improperly or worked at unprotected edges without negative consequences. If your culture is one that truly discourages this at-risk behavior, workers will know it’s important to their boss and the company to work safe.

    Make sure to frame your message in a positive light. Let them know you are glad they haven’t been injured and you don’t want them to suffer from an easily prevented work place injury.

Do you still need ideas for developing or improving your own fall protection plan? For additional guidance on fall protection at your facility, contact your AEU Loss Control manager or click here to have someone contact you. ALMA members can access our full resource library of fall protection materials here (login required).