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Walking-Working Surfaces: Preventing Falls. Start Safe and Stay Safe.

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start safe and stay safe
Start Safe and Stay Safe

In order to Start Safe and Stay Safe in the areas where you walk and work, you should always be aware that a fall can cause serious injuries.Simple slips and trips as well as falls from elevated work surfaces can lead to injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to the more serious, and sometimes fatal, head, neck, and back injuries.

preventing falls
Preventing Falls

Here is what we will cover:

  • Why preventing falls matters
  • Why falls occur
  • Safety on elevated work surfaces
    • Floor and wall openings
    • Fixed industrial stairs
    • Ladders
    • Scaffolds
  • How to Start Safe and Stay Safe to prevent falls.
why preventing falls matters
Why Preventing Falls Matters

To fall means to descend freely by the force of gravity. When you fall you usually don’t have much control of things like the speed of your descent, the position of your body when you land, and the surface that will stop your fall.

why preventing falls matters5
Why Preventing Falls Matters

Factors that can influence the severity of your injuries include:

  • Type of landing surface
  • Distance
  • Landing position

In most falls, the landing position is the most critical determining factor.

why falls occur
Why Falls Occur

Falls in the workplace are often caused by the hazards resulting from poor housekeeping or elevated surfaces.

  • Poor housekeeping creates hazards that can lead to slips and trips.
  • Elevated surfaces can create hazards that, without the proper precautions, lead to falls such as those from ladders, loading docks, scaffolds, or other elevated work platforms.
why falls occur7
Why Falls Occur
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) addresses these fall hazards in their regulations under the title “Walking and Working Surfaces.”
  • Briefly, the OSHA rules for housekeeping require that all work areas are clean, orderly, and sanitary, and that floors are clean and dry (or covered by the proper non-slip material).
why falls occur8
Why Falls Occur

OSHA regulations also cover many different types of elevated walking and working surfaces, such as ladders, stairs, and scaffolds. There are rules for guarding fall hazards, safe use of ladders, proper construction of stairs, and safe assembly and use of scaffolds.

  • Guarding – Protection by using barriers to prevent falls.

Unguarded platform

elevated work surfaces
Elevated Work Surfaces

There are many different types of elevated work surfaces and a variety of ways to stay safe when walking or working on an elevated surface.

elevated work surfaces10
Elevated Work Surfaces
  • Floor Opening - An opening measuring 12 inches or more.
  • Wall opening - An opening at least 30 inches high and 18 inches wide in any wall or partition through which persons may fall.
  • Fixed Industrial Stairs - A series of steps leading from one level or floor to another that is permanently attached to a structure or building.
  • Scaffolds - Any temporarily elevated platform and its supporting structure.
floor and wall openings
Floor and Wall Openings

If there are holes or openings in the floor or wall, OSHA has regulations about how these potential hazards must be protected by various types of guards. Some examples of proper guarding include railings, toeboards, and floor coverings. Sometimes an attendant may be required to monitor activities in the area.


The Four-Foot Rule

Protection for wall openings, open-sided floors, platforms, loading docks, and runways, is governed by the “Four Foot Rule.” According to the Four Foot Rule, if there is a potential that you could fall four feet or more, protection by the use of guards and rails is required on all open sides.


There are also guarding rules for areas around dangerous equipment.

If there is a chance that a person could fall and come into contact with dangerous equipment, protection is required around that equipment, regardless of the height of the working surface. Railings, toeboards, and other guarding methods are used to keep people from falling into these potentially hazardous areas.

fixed industrial stairs
Fixed Industrial Stairs

Stairs are another fall hazard in the workplace. OSHA has regulations that apply to stairs as well. The main things you need to know is that the stairs must be free from hazards that could cause a fall and that they must have handrails that are sturdy and in the right place.

OSHA requirements also cover the construction of stairs, including guidelines that determine the rise and tread width of each step, the size of stairway platforms, and the required overhead clearance.

portable ladders
Portable Ladders

When talking about elevated work surfaces, we must talk about ladders. There are two general types of ladders: portable and fixed. Portable ladders include: stepladders, single ladders, and extension ladders.

portable ladders16
Portable Ladders

Stepladders are self-supporting with a locking device and can be no longer than 20 feet. Single ladders are not self-supporting and can be no longer than 30 feet. Extension ladders are also not self-supporting, but are expandable in length up to 60 feet.

portable ladders17
Portable Ladders

When inspecting a portable ladder you should:

  • Ensure all movable parts operate freely yet with stability.
  • Ensure ropes are not frayed or badly worn.
  • Ensure rungs are free of grease, oil, or other slippery materials.

Ladders that present a potential hazard should be discarded.

portable ladders18
Portable Ladders
  • Make sure the ladder has secure footing and is either tied in place or held securely. Single or extension ladders must extend four feet above point of support and the pitch, or angle, is 1/4 of the working length of the ladder.
portable ladders19
Portable Ladders
  • Always face the ladder when using it and use both hands. Ladders should be used in accordance with manufacturer’s guidelines. You should NEVER:
    • step on the top of a stepladder
    • splice ladders together to make them longer
    • use ladders horizontally as a plank
    • use metal ladders near electrical equipment
    • Exceed load limits of a ladder
fixed ladders
Fixed Ladders

A fixed ladder is a ladder that is permanently attached to a structure, building, or piece of equipment.

In some cases, the safe use of a fixed ladder may require additional fall protection structures or devices, such as cages, platforms, or safety harnesses. If your job requires you to climb a fixed ladder, you may need specific training and you should definitely be familiar with the specific requirements found in the OSHA Regulations.


Scaffolds are a very popular and useful means of creating an elevated work surface.

Before working on a scaffold, you should be sure the footing and anchorage are secure and that the strength of the scaffold is adequate to hold at least four times the maximum intended load.


Before you work on or around a scaffold, here are some general things to inspect:

  • Check the footing and assembly to be sure it is stable.
  • Make sure there is a safe way to gain access to the scaffold.
  • If there is a risk of objects falling from a higher level, be sure there is adequate overhead protection.
  • Check to see that rails and toe boards are securely installed in the proper position.


  • Never use scaffolds or ladders during storms, high winds, or when there is snow or ice on the surfaces.
  • Never try to move a scaffold while it is being used.
  • If you spot a problem with a scaffold, DON’T use the scaffold and get the problem resolved immediately.

To Stay Safe you must make safety your number one priority. Here are some key ways that you can Stay Safe and prevent falls in the areas where you walk and work:

  • Ensure your work area is clean and orderly.
  • Keep your working surfaces free from slip hazards.
  • Be sure to select the right ladder and equipment for your job.
  • Inspect your ladders and scaffolds before each use to make sure they are safe.