There are many hazards that construction and general industry workers face on a daily basis – heavy machinery, dangerous chemicals and so on. However, you may be surprised to learn that the most dangerous (and fatal) hazard facing workers is heights.

Falls account for one of the largest number of on-job injuries for workers. In fact, in 2016, OSHA reported that 38.7% of on-job fatalities (384 deaths) were attributed to falls.

These high number of deaths and injuries are particularly concerning to former firefighter and current Pearl Engineering Safety Consultant, Scott Burkart, because utilizing proper Fall Protection, he said, could have saved many of these lives.

“There are extremely simple measures that can be taken to avoid these kinds of injuries and fatalities,” Scott said. “However, a Fall Protection plan is not implemented as often as it should have”.

Scott explains that fall-related injuries really begin with falls of 6 feet and only get worse as the length increases. During a 6-foot fall, the average 200-pound person with an arresting (stopping) distance of 1 foot will face about 1,400 pounds of force as a result of the fall. The further the fall, the higher the fall force.

Fall Protection Hierarchy

When it comes to levels of fall protection, Scott says there is a hierarchy of protective measures that organizations need to account for.

The first thing that must be considered in the event of work being performed at heights is how to eliminate the need to perform the task at heights. Can the job be done with a tool that would eliminate the need for a person, such as a machine or a pole?

If there is no solution, the next thing to consider is can guard rails be implemented or covers placed over holes in the floors? Guardrails are a very simple yet effective method for preventing falls. If the area allows, install a simple guardrail system.

However, not every situation allows for guardrails, such as working on a roof. If rails are not an option, the third step is installing a restraint system. A restraint system is something that limits falls, stumbles or inadvertently walking off the edge of the surface. This usually arrives in the form of a harness with a line attached to an anchor point whose length is not longer than the surface and/or a warning line which acts as a visual warning to alert workers before they get close to an edge as protective measures.

The last resort in fall protection measures is a Fall Arresting device. Fall Arresting devices will not prevent a fall from occurring but is designed to prevent contact and impact with the surface below. This could be something like a net placed under the work site or a harness with a lanyard and anchor point.

One point of relevance concerning Fall Arresting devices is that there must be a timely plan in place to get them down safely. In the event of a worker hanging from a harness, harnesses are capable of limiting blood flow back to the core area of the body. If this persists, it can be equally dangerous and deadly as a fall.

No matter the measure used, Scott insists there should always be a competent person available to oversee the job and look out for workers.

Ladder Safety

The most common way people work at heights is on a ladder, whether it’s a straight, extension or step ladder. Since this method is so common, it is important to understand the best and safest ladder practices, Scott says. Here are a few tips for ladder safety:

Examine the area

Always make sure to check the area above and surrounding the location you are placing the ladder for power lines and other overhead hazards. Aluminum ladders are common and excellent conductors of electricity.

It’s important that you know what you are getting yourself into. Scott says this was a discipline heavily practiced during his time as a firefighter. A good rule is to keep 10 feet away from any power lines and hazards at all times.

Secure the ladder

The safest ladder placement for climbing maintains a 65-70 degree angle. This range offers the best support and stability. At 90 degrees, the ladder is stronger but less stable. Less than 65, the ladder maybe is stable, but incredibly weak.

Safe climbing quick hits

  • When climbing a ladder, it should be placed at the proper climbing angle to allow you to climb facing the ladder and your knees should clear the rungs as you climb.
  • To determine the proper climbing angle, position yourself on the bottom rung facing the ladder, grab the rung in front of you at shoulder height, your arms should be straight out if the ladder is at the proper angle.
  • Always keep your center of gravity over the ladder by keeping your belly button between the rails of the ladder. Do not reach, extend, or hang off the sides of the ladder.  Get down and move the ladder if needed.
  • Always maintain three points of contact (two feet one hand, two hands one foot, etc.)
  • On straight ladders, the tip of the ladder should extend three feet (three rungs) past the surface/roof.
  • Never work alone. Always have someone to watch out for you. Safety is not just a one-person job.

Scott and Pearl Engineering train, educate, design, certify and rate fall protection and safety measures for companies, businesses and organizations in a wide range of areas.

For questions or inquiries, contact Scott at