Every year, hundreds of people are killed in slip and fall injuries at work, and hundreds more are injured. In the construction industry alone, there were more than 990 deaths during 2016, and 380 of them were attributed to workplace falls. That’s a whopping 38% of all workplace deaths in the construction industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Maintaining a safe workplace environment that is free of fall dangers must be a top priority for industry leaders, managers, and employees alike.
It is vitally important that every measure is taken to assure the safety of crew members, others that may have access to the job site, and the general public as well. Implementing workplace safety best practice strategies such as installing OSHA compliant safety devices, like safety guard rails, skylight protection, and harnesses is an essential step. In addition, companies must provide pre-employment and ongoing safety training to keep employees abreast of changes in safety rules and regulations. Lastly, it’s imperative to regularly inspect work areas to ensure compliance with safety rules and make adjustments as needed.
Every employer is obligated, under OSHA fall protection standards, to ensure that work surfaces are sturdy, and constructed of materials that will withstand the weight and movement of those using it. Regardless of the type of job site, industry, or work being done, fall protection devices like guardrails must be installed on work and walking surfaces that are six feet or more above the previous level. This includes areas that are unfinished, such as open floors, platforms with no walls, docks, and ramps. Of equal importance, guardrails must be used around roof holes like skylights, vents, and any other place where there is a potential for someone to fall in. In some cases, additional safety equipment such as a harness and line, nets, hand and stair railings are required – dependent upon the nature of the site and work being done.
OSHA Fines & Penalties
Failure to comply with OSHA regulations will result in hefty fines and penalties and an obligation to rectify the situation in a timely manner. These fines are dependent upon the violation and can range anywhere from $9,239 all the way up to $129,336 for each first-time violation. What’s more, additional penalties apply when the company fails to correct a violation or repeats the same mistake. An Area Director from OSHA makes the determination of the fines based upon the severity of the violation, company history with regards to safety compliance, size of the company, and its good faith. These fines are considered the final ruling from OSHA and they are not subject to review by any court or other agency. However, if the company informs the director of his intent to contest the violation within 15 days of receiving it, a review is undertaken at that time.
Safety Guard Rail Requirements
OSHA regulations detail specific criteria that must be met when using industrial safety guard rails to ensure safety:
- First, the top edge height must be 42 inches, plus or minus 3 inches, above the working or walking surface. In certain circumstances, however, the 45-inch limit may be exceeded if the other criteria are all met.
- Top and mid rails must be at least ¼ inch in diameter to prevent cuts and lacerations as workers hold on to them. In addition, the surface must be finished so that it does not pose a hazard to employees that encounter them. All surfaces of the railing must be smooth to prevent injuries and to keep clothing from snagging.
- Guard rails also must withstand a force of at least 200 pounds applied to an area within 2 inches of the top edge and cannot compress to less than 39 inches upon impact.
Safety Guard Rail Uses
Safety guard rails are used in structures above ground like a building that is under construction, or around the roof of an existing structure under repair, or encircling the exposed mechanicals on a rooftop. In these cases, the railings are placed around a specific perimeter, advising that individuals should proceed with caution and adhere to safety protocols. This also ensures that materials are not placed close to the edge, creating a hazard for those working below. These types of rails are often temporary and are removed when the work has been completed. In other applications, such as a walkway, loading dock or ramp, the railings are permanent. A specialized guard rail is also used to secure skylights and other roof openings that pose a fall risk to workers. Finally, it is necessary to install industrial guard rails on platforms that are above dangerous equipment and processes.
Construction companies, contractors and other individuals within the industry have an obligation to fully understand safety as a number one priority on any job site. Injuries caused by lack of fall protection can be devastating for the injured party, not only in terms of pain and suffering but financially as well. They can also result in major problems for the company, including fines, penalties, increased insurance rates, and the potential for lawsuits and judgments. What’s more, injuries keep workers from their jobs, delay projects, and cause other disruptions. These problems are can be easily avoided following simple safety rules.
Ensuring the safety of your employees and anyone that visits your work sites is a matter of proper training, the usage of safety equipment, and constant vigilance on everyone’s part. If your company is concerned about workplace safety and how to comply with OSHA regulations, or if you want to learn more about safety guard rails, please contact us. Our team of safety experts will be happy to discuss your specific needs to help you determine your best course of action to keep your employees safe and your company on track.