Construction site safety tips: working at heights

5 minute read

How do you feel about heights? Most seasoned construction workers have probably overcome this classic phobia, but there’s always the fear of falling to contend with. Not afraid of falling either? Maybe you should be.

The construction industry has deep roots in North America, and though tools and techniques have improved over time, some things never change. A variety of construction site safety challenges, pitfalls, and risks continue to interfere with day-to-day work – in fact, over 20% of worker fatalities in 2015 were in construction. Fatal falls are still the top cause of death among construction workers and contractors, which means there’s room for improvement in construction site safety.

3 common equipment problems that lead to falls

Construction jobs require a range of specialized equipment, and that can make monitoring and upkeep a bit of a chore. However, it’s a chore you won’t want to skip, since ladders, scaffolding, and fall protection are at the heart of a good construction site safety program.  Consider improving your safety practices when it comes to using these common pieces of equipment.

Ladders

Ladders seem relatively straightforward: make sure it’s stable, then go on up. Of course, any piece of equipment with many joints or load-bearing platforms – like a ladder – can become a major safety hazard, especially with wear and tear.

Another problem with a “straightforward” piece of equipment is that you could begin to get far too comfortable with it. If you lean a bit too far, or trust your footing a bit too much, you could find yourself tumbling to the ground.

Improper ladder use is a leading cause of fatal falls for construction workers. Ladder safety involves checks, focus, and careful consideration about the consequences of misuse, so keep these construction safety tips in mind when it comes to updating your ladder safety regimen:

  • Inspect each ladder before using it, and if you deem it unsafe, be sure to promptly remove it from the worksite.
  • Always face the ladder when climbing or descending.
  • Keep three points of contact with the ladder at all times – two feet and a hand, or two hands and a foot.
  • Check that the surface is level and stable before setting up the ladder.
  • Be sure the top of the ladder extends at least three feet above the point of support, and tie the top and bottom to secure points for extra stability.
  • Check the locks on your extension ladder before using it.
  • Put barriers around the ladder if it’s being used in a high-traffic area.
  • When considering the amount of weight a ladder can safely hold, don’t forget to factor in any tools or materials you may be holding while standing on it.

Energized electrical equipment brings another level of risk. If you’ll be using this sort of charged equipment, your ladder should have non-conductive side railings.

Fatal falls are the top cause of death among construction workers and contractors, and improper ladder use is a leading cause of fatal falls. tweet

Harnesses

A personal fall arrest system can be great insurance against a disastrous fall on a construction site – but only if it’s in perfect working order. Like any important tool, harnesses should be inspected closely and frequently, and always used properly. After all, your body is literally on the line.

When inspecting your harness, consider these tips:

  • Make sure the harness is working properly and free of damage
  • Make sure that the lanyard or lifeline is short enough to prevent you from making contact with a lower level if you were to fall.

Safety nets and lanyards involved in personal fall arrest systems will prevent you from falling a great distance; only guardrails can actually prevent a fall from occurring. Employers and employees alike should have a part in ensuring a safe work environment, which means management should consider installing toe boards, screens or guardrails, and canopies or barricades where appropriate.

Scaffolding

Scaffolding is an integral part of a construction site, and potentially the most dangerous for workers. After all, this sort of raised platform not only exposes workers to falls, but also to electrocutions and falling objects.

Careful tool placement and being conscious of weight limits will help you work safely on a scaffold. Here are some other construction safety tips you might want to consider:

  • Have trained people assemble the scaffold, and schedule regular inspections by a qualified inspector (ideally, a professional engineer).
  • Include at least two guardrails (three, if you count the toe board) on each side of the platform.
  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) on scaffolds, including standard head and foot protection, plus a harness when necessary. If a harnessed worker falls off a platform, they should be returned to a safe, stable surface and unhooked as soon as possible. Dangling from a harness may cut off circulation and become life-threatening in as little as ten minutes.
  • Since space is tight to begin with, keep any tools and materials that aren’t being used off the scaffold.
  • Block off the area on the ground below the scaffold to protect passersby from material and items that could fall from the platform.

It’s important to remember that while you could be in danger of falling, you’re also in danger of having other things fall on you. This is why having the right head and foot protection, as well as keeping surfaces clutter-free, is so important.

Better risk management can save lives

Regular inspection, thorough training, and comprehensive safety and actions plans should play major roles in your construction site safety strategy. It’s difficult to monitor and control all aspects of your daily operations, and maintenance could get lost in the shuffle. Consider bringing in some risk management experts to help you better assess your risks, compile a training program, and ultimately protect the people that your business counts on.

Managing safety on a construction site is only one piece of the puzzle. With all your specialized, well-maintained equipment, your operation could be more tempting to thieves than you might imagine. Take a moment to learn about the growing problem of construction site theft, and what you can do to protect your tools and equipment as you work to keep your employees safe.