Federal Law Requires Employers to Protect Employees From Fall Hazards

The Federal law passed by Congress in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act contains a passage known as the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to provide a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm…”

Falls are a “recognized hazard” in the US workplace, accounting for 680, or 13% of the total fatalities reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2008.  Accordingly a number of industry-specific regulations are established by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to prevent worker injury and are summarized on the Safety and Health Topics Fall Protection web page

Construction, an industry with inherent fall hazards, attributed 332 of the 969 deaths in 2008 to falls, and has a chapter, Subpart M, devoted to fall protection.  This Subpart is divided into four distinct sections:

1926.500 – Scope, application and definitions

1926.501 – Duty to have fall protection

1926.502 – Fall protection systems, criteria and practices

1926.503 – Training requirements

The training requirements in Subpart M state that the employer must assure that each employee understands the following: 

  • Nature of the fall hazards in their work area
  • Correct procedures to protect workers from these fall hazards

The last section of Subpart M is “Certification of Training.”  These standards require the employer to “verify compliance” by preparing a “written certification record” that contains the following:

  • Name or other identity of the employee trained
  • Date(s) of the training
  • Signature of the person who conducted the training or the signature of the employer

The most current training certification must be maintained by the employer, and retraining is required in the following situations:

  • Changes in the workplace render previous training obsolete
  • Changes in the types of fall protection systems or equipment to be used render previous training obsolete
  • Inadequacies in an affected employee's knowledge or use of fall protection systems or equipment indicate that the employee has not retained the requisite understanding or skill.

 The OSHA regulations do not require separate documentation, so many employers use job-related, daily paperwork to “certify the training” such as:

  • Job Hazard Analyses, Toolbox Talks, Site-Specific Accident Prevention Plans, Daily Job Logs and Time, Materials and Consumables Records

In summary, the written certification record must detail what was reviewed, who was there, the date, and must include the signature of the employer, or trainer.  In meeting this requirement the “written record” can take a variety of forms, from yellow-lined notebook paper, to computer printed policies, procedures with attendance rosters, to Certificates of Training provided by safety suppliers or training providers.

What’s most important is that the “nature of the fall hazards”—specific to the job, project or task—are reviewed and methods to protect the worker are detailed.

More workplace safety resources on Fall Protection are available at the MEMIC Safety Director, the online tool for MEMIC policyholders.