Fall Protection-General Requirements 1926.501

OSHA Top 10 Series: Fall Protection-General Requirements 1926.501

In 1970 the Occupational Safety and Health Act was created to prevent workers from being injured or killed while working. Guidelines and standards were created to highlight the dangers of specific industries and regulations were put in place that must be followed to maximize safety while minimizing injuries. These guidelines and standards cover a wide range of industries and safety concerns, with Fall Protection being one of the most critical areas. 

For the 11th consecutive fiscal year, Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501) is OSHA’s most frequently cited standard with 5,295 violations for 2021 (Safety & Health Magazine). Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501) is consistently top of OSHA’s most cited standards. According to Workplace Material Handling & Safety, the enforcement numbers for Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501) from October 2019 through September 2020 are as follows:

  • Total citations: 4,602
  • Total inspections: 4,487
  • Total proposed penalties: $24,977,808

Industries most often violating the Fall Protection—General Requirements standard include:

  • Construction: $24,556,434
  • Wholesale Trade: $158,842
  • Utilities: $83,100
  • Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services: $62,151

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Falls are among the most common causes of serious work related injuries and deaths. Employers must set up the workplace to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated work stations or into holes in the floor and walls. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry and eight feet in longshoring operations. In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance. Employers can avoid Fall Protection citations and violations by following OSHA standards, such as creating a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) for working at height jobs. According to OSHA, a job hazard analysis is a technique that focuses on job tasks as a way to identify hazards before they occur. It focuses on the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment. Ideally, after identifying uncontrolled hazards, management should take steps to eliminate or reduce them to an acceptable risk level.

OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard (1926.501) outlines where fall protection is required, which systems are appropriate for given situations, the proper construction and installation of safety systems, and the proper supervision of employees to prevent falls. It is designed to protect employees on walking/working surfaces (horizontal or vertical) with an unprotected side or edge above 6 feet. According to fall protection experts, common construction Fall Protection citations include:

  1. 1926.501(b)(13) – each employee engaged in residential construction activities 6 feet or more above lower levels shall be protected by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems unless another provision in paragraph (b) provides for an alternative fall protection measure. 
  2. 1926.501(b)(1) – each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal or vertical) with an unprotected side or edge that is 6 feet or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems. 
  3. 1926.501(b)(10) – except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b), each employee engaged in roofing activities on low-slope roofs, with unprotected sides and edges 6 feet or more above lower levels shall be protected from falling by guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, or a combination of warning line system and guardrail system, warning line system and safety net system, or warning line system and personal fall arrest system, or a warning line system and safety monitoring system
  4. 1926.501(b)(11) – each employee on a steep roof with unprotected sides and edges 6 feet or more above lower levels shall be protected from falling by guardrail systems with toeboards, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems. 
  5. 1926.501(b)(4)(i) – each employee on walking/working surfaces shall be protected from falling through holes (including skylights) more than 6 feet above lower levels, by personal fall arrest systems, covers, or guardrail systems erected around such holes. 

One of the best ways to determine and establish safe working at height procedures is to complete a JSA/JHA before each job. Consider these safety tips when creating your companies JSA/JHA (Workplace Material Handling & Safety):

  • Provide adequate fall protection to employees who are exposed to fall hazards. According to 29 CFR 1926.501 (b)(1), each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.
  • Develop, implement, and enforce a written, comprehensive safety program. 29 CFR 1926 (20)(b)(1),(2) holds employers responsible for developing safety programs that are designed to prevent worker injury. These safety programs provide for frequent and regular inspections of the jobsites, materials and equipment. They are to be done by a competent person designated by the employer. The evaluation of tasks to be performed at the worksite forms the basis for development, implementation and enforcement of a safety program. Key elements of such a program should include, at a minimum, frequent and regular inspections by a competent person and should include provisions for training employees in hazard identification, avoidance and abatement.
  • Provide training to workers in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the required safe work practices that apply to their normal and to any new work environments. 29 CFR 1926 (21)(b)(2) requires employers to instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to the work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to injury or illness. Whenever employees are asked to perform new tasks, employers should provide them with the training they need to perform the job safely. In this incident, the victim and his crew members were assigned to new tasks, roofing work, without the benefit of training in how to recognize and avoid fall hazards. Employers should refer to OSHA regulation CFR 1926.503 (a) for specific training requirements. If training cannot be provided prior to the start of work, the work should be delayed until the training can be provided or until a trained crew is available.
  • Ensure that workers who are part of a multilingual workforce comprehend instructions in safe work procedures for the tasks to which they are assigned. Companies that employ workers who do not understand English should identify the languages spoken by their employees, and design, implement and enforce a multi-language safety program. The program, in addition to being multi-language, should include a competent interpreter to explain worker rights to protection in the workplace, safe work practices workers are expected to adhere to, specific safety protection for all tasks assigned, ways to identify and avoid hazards, and who they should contact when safety and health issues arise. Also, the employer should develop, and post in conspicuous places, safety posters/signs in that/those languages. 

To minimize the risks associated with working at heights, employers should develop a Job Safety Analysis prior to each job. Industrial Safety and Hygiene News recommends employers should:

  • Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk (using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover).
  • Provide a guard rail and toe-board around every elevated open sided platform, floor or runway.
  • Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto dangerous machines or equipment (such as a vat of acid or a conveyor belt) employers must provide guardrails and toe-boards to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
  • Other means of fall protection that may be required on certain jobs include safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings and hand rails.

There are a number of ways employers can protect workers from falls, including through the use of conventional means such as guardrail systems, safety net systems and personal fall protection systems, the adoption of safe work practices, and the provision of appropriate training. The use of warning lines, designated areas, control zones and similar systems are permitted by OSHA in some situations and can provide protection by limiting the number of workers exposed. Whether conducting a job safety analysis or job hazard assessment or developing a comprehensive fall protection plan, thinking about fall hazards before the work begins will help the employer to manage fall hazards and focus attention on prevention efforts. To make the job safety analysis (JSA) process as effective as possible, consider using JSABuilder.

Note: images, links, brands discussed or displayed in this article are not endorsements or recommendations. They are for illustration of various products and types of products. JSABuilder does not recommend products, does not endorse, or express any opinion as to the applicability to any given use case or job hazard. Again, consult your safety professional to obtain authoritative opinions on applicability, selection and fitting of all the various types of PPE, then work smart and safe.