Why Fall Protection continues to be the most violated OSHA standard
fall protection signage

Fall Protection (1926.501) has once again been identified as the most violated OSHA standard. Each year OSHA has to issue thousands of citations to companies related to fall protection. While these violations are bad enough, it is even worse when you realize the fact that there are also thousands of injuries and even fatalities due to falls at the workplace.

First in this article, we’ll take a look at the most cited sections within 1926.501. Next, we’ll examine some of the top reasons why the fall protection standard continues to be violated at such a high rate and what companies can do to better adhere to the standard. 

Top Cited Sections in OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard 1926.501

Residential Construction

Four of the five violation types have dropped in citations. This would have brought down the total significantly wasn’t it for the number 1 most cited violation type; 1926.501(b)(13) – Residential construction.

The risks:
Unfinished structural parts, tools, debris, materials lying around (tripping hazard) and unprotected sides/edges all add to the risk of falling when no appropriate safety measures are taken.

Safety measures:

  • Temporary guardrails
  • Personal fall protection system
  • Safety net system
  • Aerial lifts / ladders / scaffolds
  • Eliminate fall hazards where possible

Unprotected sides and edges

The second ranked violation in this top-5 can also be easily related to the construction industry since most sites will have loads of open (and unprotected) edges. If temporary edge protection has not been applied yet, workers should always be required to protect themselves against a possible fall by means of fall protection PPE.

The risks:
No protected perimeter, which means falling off a structure or work platform is possible when losing balance, tripping or slipping.

Safety measures:

  • Guardrail system
  • Safety net system
  • Personal fall arrest system

Low-slope roofs

In this part of the regulation – 1926.501(b)(10) – OSHA permits the use of warning lines and safety monitoring systems during roofing work on low-sloped roofs. From a safety point of view, this is not the most desirable solution. However, the numbers of this type of violation has dropped over the past couple of years.

The risks:
Underestimation of dangers on a low-slope roof and not using fall protection, which can result in a fall.

Safety measures:

  • Guardrail system
  • Safety net system
  • Personal fall arrest system
  • Monitoring system

Steep roofs

An inclined angle of a roof brings many dangers, a worker can easily misstep on for example a roof tile and fall further down due to the steepness of the roof. Although the OSHA 1926.501 standard states that when workers enter a steep roof with unprotected sides/edges, they must always be protected from falling, this rule is often ignored by contractors.

The risks:
Not identifying a steep roof as such and not taking enough safety measures. Falling and sliding off the roof are a big risk in this case.

Safety measures:

  • Guardrail system
  • Safety net system
  • Personal fall arrest system

Holes and skylights

The danger of working around skylights isn’t always known amongst workers. They create a common fall hazard that should be considered when work is done on a (flat) roof with these type of objects. Of course, the danger of falling through a skylight is less obvious than that of falling off the roof edge, but nonetheless these skylights must be protected against falls at all times. Either by means of pre-protected skylights or external fall protection solutions such as guardrails, single anchor points or horizontal lifeline systems.

The risks:
Skylights are presumed safe because of glass or plastic cover, but the risk of falling through the skylight is still present!

Safety measures:

  • Placing guardrails alongside a hole/skylight
  • Placing a horizontal lifeline system close to holes/skylights

Top Reasons for Fall Protection Violations

Confusing Fall Protection Regulations

One of the biggest difficulties that companies face in this area is the plethora of regulations that a company must continually stay current with. OSHA alone has dozens of different fall protection guidelines, recommendations and regulations that you should be aware of.

Many of them are industry specific, so they don’t apply to everyone. For example, construction workers have a set of standards that they must follow, but these same standards don’t really apply to someone working in a warehouse facility. This can lead some companies to mistakenly think that they can ignore some regulations that should actually apply to them.

In addition, while OSHA is the biggest and best known regulatory organization, there are many others too. It can be overwhelming at times to be aware of all the requirements that are placed on a facility.

While it is not always easy to keep up with all the requirements that are placed on a facility, this is no excuse. One of the most important parts of running any business is keeping your employees safe while on the job. Part of that is taking the time to really understand all the regulations related to fall protection so that you can avoid potentially serious accidents and injuries.

Employees Neglect Requirements

In many cases a company will have all the right policies in place, but the employees don’t follow them for one reason or another. The following are a few of the more common things that many employees who work at heights say when asked why they don’t follow the fall protection regulations:

  • Fall Protection Equipment is Uncomfortable – Many people don’t like the restrictions or discomfort that some equipment puts on them. This is, of course, no reason not to follow the proven safety requirements.
  • Only going up for a moment – When employees just have to go up to a set height for a moment or two they often neglect following the prescribed safety regulations. Accidents can happen at any moment, so it is always essential to follow the fall protection requirements.
  • Not very high up – When people are working at heights that are only 5-10 feet off the ground they often feel like they aren’t in much danger. The reality, however, is that even these fairly short falls can result in broken bones and other serious injuries.
  • Been doing this for years – Many people who have been working at heights for years believe that they have the experience to avoid getting hurt. While they may have a lower risk of falling, it is certainly not 100% safe. The fall protection equipment is specifically there for those rare situations where mistakes happen.
  • Equipment is Unorganized – When employees can’t easily access fall protection equipment, they are more likely to not use it. With that in mind, make sure to organize your equipment. This can be done by using industrial labels, floor marking tape or any number of other items that can help with the overall organization of your facility.

Of course each person will have their own reason for not following the fall protection procedures that are in place for a facility. No matter what these reasons are, however, a company is responsible for making sure that all employees follow the established processes.
If one or more people aren’t following the rules, there must be consequences to help get everyone on-board with doing the right thing. This will not only help keep them safe, but will also help to avoid any citations or fines from OSHA or other regulatory organizations.

Expenses Related to Fall Protection

Many facilities are actually out of compliance because they don’t want to invest the money in getting all the required personal protection equipment. Having safety harnesses, railings and other items that can help keep people who are working high above the ground can be quite expensive.

This is especially true for companies that work in many different locations, such as construction crews. Coming up with the right safety gear for each situation can be very costly. The fact is, however, that if the right equipment is not available, the company will end up having to pay high fees and penalties.

In many cases, these fines will continue until the company has the safety equipment in place anyway, which means in the long run it will be cheaper to just make the necessary investment up front so that there aren’t any fines or other unnecessary expenses. Of course, when budgets are tight, it can be difficult.

Just keep in mind that in most cases there are a variety of fall protection options to choose from. You may be able to get a simple harness system that will keep everyone safe for far less than it would cost to bring in a more elaborate system. The essential thing is not having the most advanced system in place, but rather having an effective system that will keep people safe and meet the regulatory requirements.

Delays in Completing Work

In today’s competitive environment, companies need to be able to work quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, this can lead some companies to put speed ahead of safety. They may encourage employees to get their jobs done without the proper safety equipment.

Whether this is expressly stated, or the business goals and focus make it clear to the employees, this is a major danger.

While the desire to be as competitive as possible is understandable, companies need to always make a conscious decision to put safety first. Fortunately, however, it has been shown that companies that focus on safety tend to perform better in almost all other categories too. With this in mind, it just makes sense to focus on proper fall protection, even if it slows things down a little bit.

Easy to Identify

One last reason why fall protection is constantly on OSHA’s list is because it is typically very easy for an inspector to identify this problem. For example, if they don’t see the proper fall protection equipment in place, they can immediately issue a citation. In addition, when they ask employees what the fall protection policies are, it will be clear whether it is sufficient or not.

The bottom line when looking at OSHA reports is that you need to constantly be working to improve safety and avoid being cited for any violations. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of fall protection.


Despite the fact that OSHA has increased the monetary value of fines for fall protection violations, the standard continues to be the number one violation year-in and year-out. It is ultimately up to each employer to set and enforce the standard within their organization. Self enforcement on the job-site will not only save lives, it will set a standard that reduces confusion and the possibility of an employee neglecting the standard.

You may also like our Safety Talk regarding Fall Protection.