Kentucky FACE Workbook: Preventing Falls in Construction

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Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Surveillance Program

Summary Statement

The Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program developed this workbook for fall safety in construction using information gathered from construction fatality investigations. The workbook includes information regarding the top 4 causes of fall injuries in the construction industry, tips, guidelines, and regulations for preventing the top 4 causes of falls, real-life case stories, self-quizzes, and links to other resources.
October 2016

Falls were the leading cause of worksite fatalities in the construction industry in 2014

Photo of a construciton worker lying on the ground with another aiding him.Contained in this packet:

  • Information regarding the top 4 causes of fall injuries in the construction industry.
  • Tips, guidelines, and regulations for preventing the top 4 causes of falls.
  • Real-life case stories.
  • Self-quizzes.
  • Links to other resources.

Falls are consistently the leading cause of death in construction. In Kentucky, between the years 2009 and 2014, 23 fatal falls occurred in construction. In 2014, 349 out of the 874 deaths in construction in the U.S. were due to falls, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Furthermore, 24.5% of nonfatal injuries resulting in days spent away from work in construction were due to fall related incidents. Nonfatal falls are often debilitating and result in long-term pain, disability, worktime loss, and decreased quality of life.

As shown by the above statistics, falls are a very real and serious safety threat in the construction industry that should never be taken lightly. To protect yourself from injury or death on the job, educate yourself about workplace dangers and practical ways in which you can work safely. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified the following four hazards as the most common causes of fall-related injuries and death in the construction industry:

  1. Unprotected Edges, Wall Openings, and Floor Holes
  2. Improper Scaffold Construction
  3. Unguarded Protruding Steel Rebars
  4. Misuse of Portable Ladders

This workbook will address these fall-related hazards in detail and provide practical knowledge that, when applied, can help to ensure you make it home when the workday is finished.

Unprotected Edges, Wall Openings, and Floor Holes

man near an unguarded hole in the floorFalls to lower levels are a major cause of death in the construction industry. Most construction sites at some point have unprotected sides, wall openings, or floor holes during the various phases of projects. It is crucial to have safety mechanisms in place to protect yourself and other workers from falling into these openings. Injuries related to falls from height often range from sprains, to concussions, or even death.

Carrying materials that impede your view can also increase the risk of a fall. Many injuries occur when work areas are unorganized and have scattered materials, increasing the odds of trips and falls.

How can I avoid these Hazards?

29 CFR 1926.501 requires that you use at least one of the following whenever exposed to a fall hazard of 6 feet or more above a lower level: A) Guardrail Systems, B) Safety Net Systems, and/or C) Fall Arrest Systems.


  • Ensure a competent person assesses the site for fall hazards prior to work.
  • If you make a hole, cover or guard it immediately. If possible, before cutting the hole, barricade the work area to keep people out.
  • Ensure that hole covers can effectively support two times the weight of employees, equipment, and materials that may be imposed on the cover. Refrain from using non-substantial materials like paper, plastic, and cardboard. Label the hole “Caution: Floor Opening” in all applicable languages.
  • Guard skylights as they cannot support the weight of workers or equipment.
  • Inspect fall arrest systems before each use for cuts, nicks, and frays.


  • Set up fall arrest systems in high wind conditions.
  • Use fall arrest or safety net systems that appear to be damaged or deficient.

Real Life Kentucky Case Reports

Case 1:
Two roofers arrived on a job, climbed a ladder to the roof, and began strategizing where to tie off their fall arrest systems. While reviewing the backside of the structure, a 33 m.p.h. gust of wind caused the two roofers to lose their balance and fall from the roof. One roofer fell to the ground, followed by the other roofer falling on top of him. The roofer who fell first died of injuries sustained both by his own fall and the crushing impact of the second worker.

Case 2:
A laborer was tasked with cleaning debris from a steep commercial building roof. Along with two other workers, he made his way to the rooftop. The victim did not wear his fall arrest system despite the availability of sufficient fall protection. He grabbed a bag for trash and began walking toward the edge of the roof, when he slipped and fell 60 feet to the sidewalk below. He died at the scene of multiple blunt force injuries.

Case 3:
A 34-year-old worker in a commercial building project stepped into an unguarded elevator shaft and fell 13 feet and 8 inches to his death. Two other employees were looking for empty buckets and found the victim at the bottom of the elevator shaft. It was unclear how long he had been there. Emergency Medical Services were notified and arrived on the scene, pronouncing the victim dead. His death was due to blunt force trauma injuries sustained in the fall.

Case 4:
A roofer was removing shingles from a 9/12 pitched shingled church rooftop. As he leaned back on the leading edge of the roof, his safety rope snapped, causing him to fall 29 feet to the ground below. The investigation discovered that the worker was not properly tied off, and the rope was not qualified for fall arrest system use. The nylon rope showed considerable signs of wear upon inspection during the proceeding investigation.

How might each of the above deaths been prevented?

Case 1: ________________________________

Case 2: ________________________________

Case 3: ________________________________

Case 4: ________________________________

Improper Scaffolding Construction

Scaffolding and menWorking with heavy equipment and building materials on the limited space of a scaffold is challenging. Without proper fall protection, safe access, and stability, it becomes a hazardous situation. Falls from improperly constructed scaffolding can lead to serious injury or even death.

In a recent BLS study, 72 percent of workers attributed scaffolding injuries to the planking or support giving way, to the lack of guardrails and/or fall protection, and to objects falling from overhead. Scaffolding incidents account for about 4,500 injuries and 50 deaths every year in the U.S.

How can I avoid these Hazards?

29 CFR 1926.451(g)(1) requires that any employee on a scaffolding more than 10 feet above a lower level be protected from falling to that lower level.


  • Ensure a competent person assists in scaffolding construction and risk assessment prior to work.
  • Construct all scaffolds according to manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Install guardrail systems along all open sides and ends of elevated platforms.
  • Ensure scaffolding is braced or tied to the building when height/width of scaffolding requires it.
  • Use metal walk-boards when possible. If using wood, it must be scaffold grade or better.
  • Ensure safe access to and from the platform before use.
  • Know and abide by the load capacity.
  • Do not allow more workers or equipment than the scaffold can handle.
  • Always wear hardhats and other PPE to protect from falling objects.


  • Mix different scaffolding types together in the same scaffold.
  • Climb cross-bracing or guardrails to access the scaffolding platforms.
  • Jump from, to, or between scaffolding.
  • Clutter the platform walkway with materials in a way that would impede safe movement.

Can you identify the safety hazards in the following photos?

Photo 1:
scaffolding pic 1

A. ________________________________
B. ________________________________
C. ________________________________

Photo 2:
scaffolding pic 2
A. ________________________________
B. ________________________________
C. ________________________________
D. ________________________________

Unguarded Protruding Steel Rebars

unguarded steel rebar and menUnguarded protruding steel rebar are a serious threat to safety on the jobsite. Even a small trip or slip can cause impalement. Unguarded steel rebar become an even greater threat when workers are elevated above them without proper fall protection. When working with rebar at grade level, the risk of impalement depends on a number of factors, including: proximity of rebar to worker; height of the rebar; etc. For example, working at grade around rebar that is 3-6 feet high would be unlikely to cause an impalement. Protective rebar caps should be used to prevent cuts, abrasions, or other minor injuries.

Remember, when working at a construction site you must take full responsibility for your own personal safety. If you see uncovered rebar, do not proceed with the job until it has been correctly guarded.

How can I avoid these Hazards?


  • Ensure a competent person assesses the site for rebar-related hazards prior to beginning work.
  • Cap all protruding ends of steel rebar with steel-reinforced rebar caps or wooden troughs.
  • If caps are unavailable, bend rebar so exposed ends are no longer upright.
  • When employees are working at any height above exposed rebar, fall protection must be used as the first defense against impalement.


  • Work around unprotected rebar, especially from heights.
  • Use mushroom-style rebar caps.

Not all rebar guards are created equal


CFR 1926.701(b)
requires that rebar be “guarded to eliminate the hazard of impalement.” Not all guards provide this level of protection. In some instances, the force of a person falling onto a guarded rebar can cause the steel bar to push through a cap made of only plastic (pictured left) and still cause impaling injuries. In many cases, the worker can even be impaled by the rebar with the cap still intact.



What type of rebar protection should I use?

steel-reinforced cap

Considering the serious nature of the above hazard, the standard mushroom-style plastic rebar caps should not be relied upon for protection from impalement. Only rebar caps designed to protect against impalement should be used, such as steel –reinforced square caps (pictured right) or wooden troughs (pictured below).

wooden trough cap
Wooden trough

As a general rule of thumb, consider rebar protective devices capable of withstanding at least 250 pounds being dropped from a height of 10 feet adequate enough protection to meet the requirements found in 1926.701(b).



OSHA Case Report:
A laborer was working from a rooftop when he fell through a roof opening approximately 8 feet onto a patio which had about 20 half-inch rebars pointing upward. The laborer was impaled by one of the bars and died as a result of his injuries.

Identify three hazards in this scenario that may have contributed to this worker’s death.


Misuse of Portable Ladders

You risk falling if portable ladders are not safely positioned each time they are used. While you are on a ladder, it may move and slip from its supports. You can also lose your balance while getting on or off an unsteady ladder. Falls even from a height of only a few feet can be fatal. Slow down and take an extra moment to ensure you are using the ladder safely.

Factors that contribute to falls from ladders include:

  • Working in a hurry
  • Ladder placement
  • Sudden movement
  • Lack of attention
  • Condition of the ladder
  • User age or physical condition

How can I avoid these Hazards?


  • Ensure a competent person has checked for ladder-related hazards prior to beginning work.
  • Use the correct ladder for the job with the proper load capacity.
  • Position portable ladders so the side rails extend at least 3 feet above the landing.
  • Secure top side rails to a rigid support and use a grab device when 3 foot extension isn’t possible.
  • Maintain a 3-point contact (two hands and a foot, or a hand and two feet) when climbing ladder.
  • Stay near the middle of the ladder and face the ladder while climbing up or down.
  • Practice extra caution when getting on or off of the top or bottom of an extension ladder.


  • Use a ladder on soft ground or unstable footing.
  • Climb with equipment in hand.
  • Stand on the top two rungs of a stepladder, or the top four rungs of an extension ladder.
  • Use a step ladder that is leaning against a wall.

Which ladder should I use for a job?

Ladder Type Duty Rating Use Load
IAA Special Duty Rugged 375 lbs.
IA Extra Duty Industrial 300 lbs.
I Heavy Duty Industrial 250 lbs.
II Medium Duty Commercial 225 lbs.
III Light Duty Household 200 lbs.

Select a ladder for a job based on the expected load capacity (duty rating), the type of work to be done, and the correct height. As a general practice you should always ensure the ladder can support 4 times the intended weight.

Identify the hazard(s) in each photo and the corrective action

man on a ladder

1) _____________________________________________________

man on a ladder2

2) _____________________________________________________

man on a ladder 3

3) _____________________________________________________

man on a ladder 4

4) _____________________________________________________

Fall Safety Quiz


  1. Skylights are usually industrial grade and do not need to be guarded. _____

  2. You should refrain from setting up fall arrest systems in high-wind conditions. _____

  3. It is okay to mix different scaffolding types together as long as they are braced and secured to the building. _____

  4. Most rebar caps that are available to purchase provide adequate protection from impalement. _____

Fill in the blank

  1. Holes covers should be capable of effectively supporting _____ times the weight of any employees, equipment, and materials that may be imposed on the cover.

  2. Always wear ____________ and other PPE to protect from falling objects.

  3. Use catwalks made of ___________ whenever possible when constructing scaffolding.

  4. Ladders should be positioned so that the top railing extends ______ feet past the top landing.

Multiple Choice

  1. Maintain _____ points of contact when you are climbing up or down a ladder.
  2. A) One B) Three C) Two D) Four

  3. Do not stand on the top ____ rungs of a stepladder, or the top ____ rungs of an extension ladder.
  4. A) Two, Four B) Three, Two C) Two, Three D) One, Four

  5. Ladders should always be set up at least ____ feet from an overhead powerline.
  6. A) Three B) Five C) Ten D) Fifteen

  7. As a general rule of thumb, it is best to use rebar safety caps that are capable of withstanding at least ____ pounds being dropped from a height of ____ feet without defecting.
  8. A) 250, Five B) 275, Fifteen C) 175, Ten D) 250, Ten

  9. You are required to use fall protection when exposed to a fall hazard of _____ feet or more.
  10. A) Three B) Eight C) Six D) Ten

Other Resources

Stop Construction Falls

stop construction falls is a campaign dedicated to increasing awareness of the high rate of fall-related injury and death in the construction industry.

The goal of the campaign is to engage residential contractors by encouraging them to: A) Plan ahead to get the job done safely, b) Provide the right equipment, and C) Train everyone to use the equipment safely. The website includes:

        • Structured training materials and ideas for employers to use for all 7 days of the Annual Stand Down Week.
        • Fall safety literature, posters, and other outreach materials.

Kentucky FACE Program

Kentucky face program logo

Kentucky FACE is a NIOSH-funded occupational fatality surveillance program that conducts active surveillance of workplace fatalities that occur in Kentucky. Investigations are carried out in select high-incident industries to determine the contributing factors and possible safety recommendations that could prevent such fatal injuries from recurring. These findings are made available in case reports, hazard alerts, and other safety training materials that employers are encouraged to utilize with their workers.

Ladder Safety App– NIOSH

ladder safety app icon This new app uses visual and audio signals to make it easier for workers using extension ladders to check the angle the ladder is positioned at, as well as access useful tips for using extension ladders safely. The app is available for free download for both iPhone and Android devices.

Materials in this workbook were partially adapted from the OSHA Falls Construction eTool, found at:

Section Exercise Key

Unprotected Edges, Wall Openings, and Floor Holes

  1. The workers should have tied off immediately upon accessing the roof. Also, roofers should not access roof in high wind conditions
  2. Worker should have worn the provided fall protection.
  3. The edge should have been protected with a barrier.
  4. Improper fall arrest equipment was used. All equipment used should be inspected thoroughly for defects prior to use.

Improper scaffolding construction:

  1. Worker not wearing visible fall protection. No guardrail for the platform edges. No safe access to and from platforms.
  2. Scaffolding not properly braced. Load capacity is exceeded. No guardrail in place. Not enough room for workers to safely walk across platform.

Protruding steel bars:

  1. The hole was not barricaded, the worker did not have fall protection, and the steel rebars were not properly capped.

Ladder safety answers:

  1. Standing on the top of the step ladder. Corrective action: use a taller ladder that can reach the destination.

  2. Carrying materials up the ladder, violation of 3 points of contact at all times, ladder not extending 3 feet above landing. Corrective action: Hoist the materials to the top, use a taller ladder or fasten ladder to the roof landing.
  3. Ladder not extending 3 feet above landing, setting up ladder within 10 feet of a powerline. Corrective action: use a taller ladder or fasten ladder to landing, set up ladder at a different access point.
  4. Leaning step ladder against structure, two people on step ladder, no three points of contact, not staying to the center of the ladder. Corrective action: Use appropriate extension ladder, only allow access to one person at a time, do not lean to the sides.

End of Workbook Quiz Key

1) False 2) True 3) False 4) False

Fill in the Blank
1) Two 2) Hardhats 3) Metal 4) Three

Multiple Choice
1) B– Three 2) A– Two, Four 3) C– Ten 4) A– 250, Five 5) C– Six