Module 4: Falls
Unlike construction or general industry worksites, fall hazards can be less recognizable on farms and during farming activities. Proper access to elevated work areas aren't always available on farms, and workers must improvise. This often results in precarious positions and excessive leaning or over-reaching which can result in a fall.
Falls may occur from a height or on the same level. The majority of serious injuries from a fall occur at 10 feet or less, and can result in death, disability, hospitalization and/or time away from work. Even a fall on the same level, such as slipping on a wet floor or icy walking path, can lead to injuries that may keep you from working at your full capacity for months.
29 CFR 1928 defines Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for agricultural operations. Regulations for walking, working surfaces and fall hazards can be found in 29 CFR 1910, Subpart D for General Industry. This information will help you identify recognized hazards and comply with the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act.
Fall Hazard Recognition
- Are there trucks, tractors, or farm equipment which requires climbing to get into or out of the cab where grab rails are damaged, missing, or insufficient to provide support?
- Are there damaged or slippery steps, ladder rungs, paths, or floors from recent inclement weather or work processes?
- Do you need to access a roof or climb a feed bin or silo?
- Are there work areas where lighting is insufficient or non-existant which may result in a slip, trip, or fall?
- Are there areas where tools, materials, or equipment may cause tripping hazards, or make it difficult to walk or access other areas (i.e. poor housekeeping)?
- Are ladders (fixed or portable) used? Is it in good condition? Is it the correct type and size ladder for the task? Is it set up properly? Are there electrical hazards in the area?
- Are ATV/UTVs or horses riden?
- Are there job-made stairs that are uneven, damaged, or do not have hand and mid-rails?
- Could someone fall into a tank, pit, vessel or onto/into unguarded machinery?
- Are there floor holes or openings that are unprotected? Note: A "hole", per OSHA, is a gap or open space more than two inches in its least diameter in a floor or walking surface. An "opening", per OSHA, is a gap or open space in a wall or vertical surface greater than thirty (30) inches high and eighteen (18) inches wide.
- Are unstable/unsafe objects used to stand on to access elevated work (i.e. are you improvising)?
- Are children allowed to ride with the operator (and could fall during operation)?
- Do you have personal health conditions, or are you taking certain medications, which may increase your risk of accident or injury?
Fall Hazard Evaluation
Once potential fall hazards have been identified, consider the risk involved and the severity of potential injury. Falls from a height of four (4) feet or greater from one level to another present a significant hazard to the worker. Falls from a height of 15 feet or higher are associated with a significant increase of serious injury or death.
Factors that can increase risk include:
- A lack of fall protection training and/or fall hazard awareness
- Working in an awkward, unstable or other position that is difficult to maintain
- Reaching or leaning excessively while performing a task
- Handling, moving or manipulating objects while in an elevated position
- Working in low-light conditions
- Physical or medical conditions that may contribute to a fall, or which may worsen the severity of injury
- Other hazards below that may significantly increase the severity of injury or death (i.e. what will you be falling onto or into)
- Being exposed to the fall hazard for a long period versus a brief exposure
- Having to perform a task in a fall hazard situation frequently
- Using scrap materials, buckets, chairs, or other inappropriate means for accessing heights
- Use of incomplete scaffolding or damaged ladders
OSHA requires protection where working from any unguarded edge four feet or more above a lower level by one or more of the following: guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall protection systems.
Fall Hazard Controls
Elimination of a fall hazard should always be your first choice. It is by far the most effective, but may be the most difficult to implement. Examples include:
- Agricultural robotics may be an option to eliminate workers from having to climb trees to pick fruit.
- Some tools, such as those for cutting, trimming, pruning, or picking may have an extension to reach heights and allow the operator to remain on the ground.
- Clearing walking paths or work surfaces of ice or snow before work begins. Make sure the person clearing the walkways is wearing slip-resistant footwear. The use of snow blowers or other equipment to eliminate exposure to icy/slippery surfaces is a better option.
Engineering contols physically isolate the worker from the hazard.
- Guardrails, which consist of a toprail and a mid-rail, provide a barrier between the worker and the fall hazard and are the most common control for permanent fall hazard situations. For more information on the requirements for guardrails, see 1910.29(b) on OSHA's website.
- A picking platform with guardrails would be a better option for protection than workers using orchard ladders to pick fruit.
- Guardrails around the access opening in a loft or around a service pit provides protection from open edges.
- Guardrails along stairways or ramps.
- Covers for smaller holes, gaps, or openings in walking/working surfaces physically prevent stepping into it. Typically they are made of heavy plywood, marked "hole" or painted orange, and secured in place.
Administrative controls for fall hazards change the way people work. Actions and behaviors impact safety, either positively or negatively. They do not fully protect personnel from hazards, and are often used in conjunction with personal protective equipment.
- Training on a hazard and how to control it can result in positive behaviors which reduce the likelihood of an accident.
- Safe work practices, such as using a "designated area" permits workers at a certain distance from an unguarded edge to work safely within that area without a personal fall arrest system. If work occurs in outside of the "designated area", additional controls must be implemented. This option is permitted for temporary and infrequent work, and must be used in conjuction with worker training. Refer to 1910.29(d) on the OSHA website for more information.
- Warning lines can remind you of the nearby fall hazard and how close you are to the edge while working and focusing on the task. For more information on warning lines, see 1926.502(f) on the OSHA website.
Personal protective equipment for fall hazard situations includes personal fall arrest or restraint systems. These systems include an appropriate anchor point (such as the temporary roofing anchor point shown above), a connecting device (i.e. lanyard), and a full body harness. It should be the last resort. Persons using personal fall arrest systems must be trained on all aspects of the equipment used and the proper installation and use of the system provided. For more information on personal fall arrest systems, go to 1910.140 on OSHA's website.
A fall arrest system limits the distance a worker can fall (typically six feet or less) and softens the force that a person would experience when coming to a sudden stop. There must be a sufficient fall clearance distance, based on the equipment being used and the distance to the next lower level, in order for this system to be able to function properly.
A fall restraint system limits the workers access to a fall hazard, and physically prevents falling over the edge. This system must be specifically configured for the work location.
Have a plan for emergencies.
Having a cell phone on you and being able to call 911, especially if you work alone, can be a lifesaver! Know your location or be able to provide directions, if necessary. Whenever possible, work in groups of two or more, or let someone know where you will be, and when you're expected back.
- Can the location be accessed by vehicle?
- Is special equipment needed by responders to perform rescue?
- Can someone meet responders at a road to escort them to the victim's location?
- Are there gates or other obstacles that must be considered?
- Does the emergency involve farm machinery or a confined space? If so, special response teams, equipment, and methods may be necessary for extrication.
In general, do not move a person who has fallen unless there are extenuating circumstances that threaten life or limb. Do a quick head-to-toe assessment to determine if the person is breathing and conscious. Begin CPR if you've been trained. Is there any bleeding or open wounds? Are there potential broken bones? If so, provide first aid if you've been trained. If there are no indications of serious conditions, keep the victim calm, and get help as soon as possible.