Reducing Fall Hazard Risk: Use Less Personal Protective Equipment

Engineering controls, such as guardrail, are more effective fall protection solutions.

For this year’s National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, I’m sharing the top five ways to reduce fall hazard risk, based on more than a quarter century of fall protection consulting. You can check out the first way here and the second here.

The third: Use Less Personal Protective Equipment.

People are often surprised to learn that increased spending on personal protective equipment (PPE) over the last decade hasn’t coincided with decreased fall fatalities. Clearly, having equipment is not enough to ensure safety.

When making decisions about fall protection, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the number of options and complexity of requirements. Many times, PPE solutions become the easy answer. But these solutions have many ongoing maintenance requirements, and there are many opportunities for personal fall arrest systems to fail.

When using PPE, you must ensure:

  • Individual components are in good condition.
  • Proper equipment is specified for the system.
  • Equipment and components are compatible.
  • Equipment adheres to free fall limitations.
  • Equipment meets the fall clearance requirements.
  • You’ve accounted for swing fall hazards.
  • Employees are using equipment properly.

Selecting fall protection solutions and implementing them are the most visible aspects of a fall protection program. They are also the costliest, which means you have the most to lose financially during the abatement phase. If you implement the wrong solutions, you lose time, money, safety and productivity.

When you’re selecting abatement solutions, I suggest using the Hierarchy of Controls as a guide. This widely accepted strategy measures the effectiveness and defeatability of hazard abatement methods.

Safety Hierarchy of Controls

As shown above, PPE is the least effective and most defeatable solution. In fact, PPE solutions are so easy to overcome that they leave an organization with significant residual risk. Using PPE-based solutions means you haven’t removed the workers from the hazard or the hazard from the workers.

To reduce the most risk, focus on elimination, substitution and engineering control solutions. With engineering control solutions, employees must actively overcome barriers to put themselves at risk.

If you have questions or would like to learn more, comment below or visit

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