Workers falling from elevation is a major concern for safety professionals. Falls to lower level (648) accounted for 13.4 % of workplace fatalities in 2015, and were the second leading cause of workplace deaths (BLS 2016). In a 2010 Water Research Foundation study (Adams and Grieser 16), participating water utilities identified falls from elevation as one of four hazards most likely to cause severe injury or death in water plants. This study developed decision models for preventing falls and other high hazard incidents through facility design that are broadly applicable to General Industry. Some of that research is incorporated into this paper.
A common question facing facility designers is, "How should workers be elevated to perform various tasks?" That is, "Should we install fixed platforms, use boom-lifts or scissor lifts, or simply rely on ladders." Experienced safety professionals know that how this question gets answered will affect both personnel safety and operating costs for the life of the facility.
This paper will examine the problem of falls from elevation in industrial settings and how they can be prevented through planning. After presenting an overview of why workers fall, a set of strategies for preventing fatal falls will be presented. This will be followed by a discussion of the variables that need to be considered when selecting the means for elevating workers and factors to consider in this decision-making. Finally, an overview of facility features for fall protection and fall arrest will be identified to aid facility and process planners.
The authors contend that fall arrest systems should be considered secondary protection, and preventing the fall from ever occurring should be the primary objective in fall prevention planning. To meet that objective, it is important to understand why or when workers fall from elevation.