Working on leading edges is one of the most dangerous tasks in the construction industry. Unprotected leading edges cause about one-third of all fatalities in construction. Employers can protect their workers from falls by ensuring that leading edges at their worksites are secure. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), anyone who works on a leading edge six feet or higher should be protected by a personal fall arrest system, guardrails, or a safety net. This blog will explain what leading edges are, the potential dangers that come with them, and the best ways to prevent falls.
What Are Leading Edges?
Simply put, leading edges are the unprotected edge of a horizontal surface. Common leading edges on construction sites are the edge of roofs, decks, or scaffold platforms. Working near these edges is a serious fall hazard because of the significant drop that follows. Leading edges on construction sites always present challenges because they can change location as a structure is built. When the edges shift, workers must move protective equipment or find other ways to ensure that the workers are protected during the entire project.
How to Prevent Falls
Before any work begins, employers should create a thorough safety plan for each construction site. This plan should include a description of every task that workers will need to perform on leading edges and the hazards that come with working on them. The plan should also have a list of every safety measure, including how workers and tools will be secured along the leading edges. If you are unsure what kind of protection you will need for leading edge work, performing a hazard assessment will help.
The first step in keeping workers safe around leading edges is making sure they are properly trained. After training, your workers should know:
- How to recognize leading edges
- The fall hazards
- The risk of collapse and how to react
- How to use fall protection equipment
- How to erect barriers and guardrails
- What kind of signage is required to warn and make others aware
Areas with leading edges are considered control zones, and only trained workers should have access to them. Anyone without training should not be allowed near leading edges.
Personal Fall Arrest Systems
A personal fall arrest system is one form of protection for a single worker working near a fall hazard. Workers should wear the fall arrest gear properly to remain safe on the edges, and every fall arrest system must be securely connected to a stable anchor point at all times. Using a self-retracting lifeline instead of a standard lanyard eliminates tripping hazards for those working nearby. If workers use a personal fall arrest system, they must double-check that they always have reliable anchorage whenever the edges change location. Reusable anchors help when using a personal fall arrest system on a structure where the leading edges tend to move. Note that fall distances can also shift, so ensure enough clearance for the fall protection system to activate and keep the worker safe.
Guardrails are secure barriers that protect anyone coming near the leading edge. They are designed to prevent a fall by keeping workers back from the leading edge and acting as a constant visual and physical reminder of the edge’s presence. Unlike the personal fall arrest system, they work to protect multiple workers along the edge but do not protect a falling worker. Workers can use personal arrest systems and guardrails together for extra protection.
Safety nets combine two components to protect workers. A safety net protects multiple workers at once and any who might have fallen. It also acts as a line of defense against dropped and falling objects and provides protection to those working underneath a leading edge. They catch falling tools, materials, debris, and sometimes fellow workers before they can injure anyone below.
Signs should indicate the presence of a leading edge and specify whether personal fall protection is required before approaching it. According to OSHA, signs should precede a leading edge by three feet. This warning allows workers enough time to react before reaching the unprotected edge.
Employers are responsible for identifying all hazards on a worksite, including the presence of leading edges and where they are. Employers should know if fall protection is required and provide employees with the necessary equipment to work safely. Employers should have provided workers with the appropriate training for all the hazards on the worksite. If workers don’t have the proper training for leading edges, they should remain away from such areas.
The Extreme Safety team is here to assist you with your safety needs and provide you with the gear to stay safe and secure at work. We hope this blog on leading edges has been helpful and that you check out our website to see if we have the safety equipment for you. Call us at (310) 856-0166 to learn about our services and products.