Naval Safety Center




Acquisition Safety - Fall Protection

Introduction   |   Discussion   |   Recommendations   |   Conclusion   |   Resources


Every year, work-related falls from elevations result in numerous critical injuries. In 2002, the most recent year for which statistics on workplace fatalities in the United States are available, the U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics lists falls to a lower level as the second most frequent cause of work-related fatalities (after highway incidents). Falls accounted for 13% of all workplace fatalities (714) in 2002. Review of the narratives from OSHA fatality data between 1991 and 2001 indicated that approximately 15% of recorded shipyard fatalities were due to falls from heights.

The risk of falling from heights is inherent to Navy ship construction (drydocks) and aircraft maintenance sites and to any shipboard and shore facility work spaces containing scaffolds, platforms, weapons systems, auxiliary equipment, confined spaces, storage tanks, and other structures. The dangers of working at heights and the extra precautions needed to do so may mean that routine maintenance and inspections of equipment and structures that present fall hazards are carried out less frequently or may be less comprehensive than required. Falls from elevations also typically lead to negative publicity and How Workers Die at Work Chart contribute to the degradation of morale and mission readiness. In addition to harming personnel, conditions that contribute to severe fall injuries often result in expenditures for medical care, down time, and costly retrofits that could have been built-in during ship system planning and acquisition phases. Typical costs for a fatality range from $800,000 to $2,400,000, while the average cost of serious injury is more than $30,000. These are direct costs and do not include worker replacement, pain and suffering, employee morale, and other indirect costs.

The following is a general cost profile that compares incorporating fall protection and prevention measures at various stages of design, construction, and maintenance: 

During conceptual design --------- If it costs $1
At the final drawing stage -------- it will cost $10
As a construction modification --- it will cost $100
During startup and testing ------- it will cost $1,000
During maintenance phase ------- it will cost $10,000

Defense acquisition and construction programs and projects include many products and facilities that require work at elevated locations. These programs and projects must manage the potentially fatal risk of working at heights as an integral part of the design and process control that provides safe and effective defense systems. Defense acquisition regulations (DoD 5000.02) require planning and risk management for life cycle cost control and safety. Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) require construction safety precautions consistent with the latest Army Corps of Engineer Safety Manual. 

Elimination or minimization of fall hazards can best be achieved by incorporating fall protection measures during planning and design phases. Fall protection and prevention measures must be considered during all phases of design, construction, use, maintenance, operation, and final disposal. 



Note: Although fall protection is very much a concern at all Navy shore facilities, this section will deal for the most part with fall hazards onboard Navy ships.

Shipboard maintenance often means climbing masts or kingposts.Working Aloft or Over the Side

Many areas on ships are inaccessible to maintenance, inspection, or repair crews from decks or built-in work platforms. This may mean climbing masts and kingposts or being suspended over the side of the ship on temporary scaffolding, from cranes, or in man baskets. The greatest hazard associated with working over the side or aloft is falling onto the pier or into a drydock or the water. Working aloft or over the side requires much preparation and extra precautions. These include filling out check lists, certifying cranes and aerial lift equipment, informing nearby ships, restricting the work area, and inspection of rigging, staging and personal protection equipment. Personnel must receive special training on working from heights and wear special harnesses secured to anchorages that can withstand the forces of a fall. In addition, extra personnel are needed as observers who can assist people working at heights or call for help in the event of an emergency. 

Masts - Several fall hazards are associated with the need to climb masts for general maintenance like painting, repairs, or maintenance of radar or other equipment. Ladders leading to masts are most often vertical. Not all of these ladders are equipped with ladder climbing devices, commonly called "climber rails," which allow for the use of full fall protection while climbing up the ladder. Other fall hazards when working on masts are the danger of being knocked off the mast by moving equipment such as radar or losing one's balance due to sudden shifting of the ship or while hoisting tools and equipment.

Confined Spaces, Tanks, and Voids

Working in confined spaces can involve fall hazards. Platforms inside confined spaces may not have adequate guardrail systems. Use of personal fall arrest systems may be Confined spaces pose many fall hazards complicated by the lack of adequate anchorage points inside confined spaces. Deep tanks on Navy ships generally span four to five frames, or bulkheads, which have sloping sides with multiple configurations and can be over 40 feet in depth. Typically, access is through a top hatch or elliptical passages with small diameters and no guardrails. Because of the damp atmosphere in many of these confined spaces, and their chemically corrosive nature, ladders can easily become corroded and subject to failure. Wet or oily residues can also contribute to personnel falling when they lose their grip or footing on slippery surfaces. In some cases "D"-holes cut into the tank baffle plates substitute for ladders but do not meet safe ladder criteria. In addition, the "D"-holes may be placed as much as three feet apart vertically, making climbing even more difficult. [For further information on confined spaces, see the Confined Spaces section of these Acquisition Safety web pages.]

Note the steep incline of ships' laddersLadders 

Falls down ladders are a common shipboard hazard. Many ladder mishaps occur while sailors and shipyard workers are attempting to move equipment or carry various items up and down inclined ladders. Typically, ship ladders are inclined at a 68 degree angle, which is fairly steep. Ladders are often built at an even steeper angle or are completely vertical to allow more room for other items in the space constrained ship environment. Steep angles make climbing the ladders awkward, especially while carrying bulky materials. Other factors which lead to falls from ladders are uneven surfaces, poor traction (lack of non-skid surfaces), lack of materials handling alternatives, lack of adequate lighting to see ladder rungs, and lack of guard rails, chains, or man ropes at hatch openings (first four steps).


Scaffolding can present fall hazardsDuring ship maintenance, repair, or construction, particularly in drydocks, it is often necessary to construct, erect, and use temporary scaffolding. Factors that increase the risk of falls from scaffolding are: 

•  Difficulty providing fall protection during erection and dismantling stages because of inadequate anchorages or tie off points for fall arrest gear
•  Poor construction
•  Faulty erection
•  Obstructions to reaching equipment created by the scaffolding
•  Poor traction
•  No guardrails around edges
•  Lack of easy access

'Thin skinned' aircraft don't accommodate anchorages for fall arrest gear.  Aircraft Maintenance

Working on aircraft presents unique fall hazards because of slippery surfaces on the wings, tail, and fuselage. Combat aircraft are typically "thin skinned" and don't readily accommodate anchorages for tying off fall arrest gear. Aircraft maintenance aboard ship can complicate the issue of providing suitable fall protection because of the issues of space, time, and limitations of shipboard support structures.



Incorporate Fall Protection And Prevention During Planning And Design Phases
Design innovations that can be considered to minimize the need to work at elevations and/or that make working at heights safer include:New handrail design for inclined ladders

Provision for secure handrails at tops of ladders and handrail extensions that can be collapsed when hatches are closed (see diagram at right)

Use of control panels and displays at ground level instead of at heights

Remote technology, like lamps that rotate downward for service and maintenance

Designs that minimize the need for personnel to climb masts like triangular sails and masts that rotate from their bases 

Ladders and safety rails built into systems with location of ladders and access points away from edges or protected by guard rails. 

Design for circular hatch guardHatch guards that include circular openings (shown on left)

•  A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Evaluation of Shipyard Ergonomic Hazards found design for circular hatch guard at Japanese shipyard

Ladder designs that consider movement of personnel and materials in order to lower life-cycle costs and risks to crew and maintenance workers 

Using man lifts where possible instead of ladders

Designing in deck and other edge protection or use of portable edge protection or rails

Safe means to raise tools and equipment to elevated work platforms 

Designs that minimize the need for maintenance on elevated systems like long life paint systems and tanks that don't need routine painting

As part of the Rapid Cure Ship Tank Coatings Program, the Navy has utilized advanced coatings to the extend service life of:

•  Sea water tanks from 5 years to 20 years
•  Collection, Holding and Transfer (CHT) tanks from 2 years to 8 years
•  Fuel/comp fuel tanks from 5 years to 20 years
•  D-hole ring insertion designed to accommodate a safety boot for climbingPotable water tanks from 5 years to 20 years

Designs that include readily accessible anchorages for scaffolding and fall arrest systems. An example is to build permanent anchorage points into the inside of ship hulls on which to hang scaffolding.

Remote inspection of equipment and structures at heights

Use of treads with high coefficient of friction for ladders

Use of D-hole connectors in tanks; "Beamer" - mobile anchorage point for I or T beams; and "first man up devices."

•   Mobile lift can replace scaffoldingPuget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) developed and patented "D-hole Anchorage Connector" (provides stable anchorage point at both sides of bulkhead)

Conveyors that eliminate the need to carry materials on ladders or to haul up tools and equipment

Use of robotic inspection devices to enter fuel tanks, eliminating the hazards of manned entry 

Replacement of scaffolding with mobile lifts where feasible

Routine implementation of system safety review and root cause analyses of all fall mishaps to identify and remedy high-risk fall hazards.



Ship design must consider life cycle costs and risks. Acquisition programs are required to consider the support equipment and facilities as well as the primary platform and plan for safe and efficient maintenance. These issues must be considered in the design and fielding of new systems and equipment. System Safety programs identify fall hazards that have persisted from prototype to prototype, singling out hazards that indicate fall mishaps to come. Safe designs are seen as efficiency improvements and cost-avoidance opportunities. Systems are designed for safe maintenance and efficiency in accordance with human systems integration requirements (fitting the equipment design and tasks to the worker) and Key Performance Parameters (KPPs).

Incorporating fall protection during the planning and design phases of any new acquisition decreases operation and maintenance costs compared to the cost of retrofitting fall protection into an already built system. Including fall protection in an original design also helps meet key performance parameters for life cycle costs and availability by reducing operational costs per unit of time. 


Resources/Best Practices

•  DoD/Navy Instructions and Regulatory Requirements
•  Fall Protection Design Guidance Documents
•  General Fall Protection References
•  Fall Protection Regulations
•  Fall Protection Standards
•  Information on Robotic Tank Inspection

DoD/Navy Instructions and Regulatory Requirements

ASTM F-1166-07  
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), Standard Practice for Human Engineering Design for Marine Systems, Equipment and Facilities (Re-approved 2000) - Establishes general human engineering design criteria for marine vessels and systems, subsystems, and equipment contained therein. Provides a useful tool for the designer to incorporate human capabilities into a design.

DoDI 5000.02 
Establishes a simplified and flexible management framework for translating mission needs and technology opportunities, based on approved mission needs and requirements, into stable, affordable, and well-managed acquisition programs that include weapon systems and automated information systems.

Guidance Notes for the Application of Ergonomics to Marine Systems American Bureau of Shipping , ABS April 2003. American Bureau of Shipping, ABS Plaza, 16855 Northchase Drive, Houston, TX 77060 USA.

Mil Std 882, System Safety  
Provides guidance for identification of hazards through a system safety process. Its application to all acquisition projects is required by SECNAVINST 5100.10H.

•  Data Item Descriptions (DIDs)   - Mil Std 882D is the most current guidance, but technical information useful to contract development can be found in the earlier version, Mil Std 882C. This prior version contains DIDs that can be used to require and monitor safety evaluations.

DoD Design Criteria Standard for Human Engineering 23 Aug 1999

OPNAVINST 5100.23 Series
Navy Safety and Occupational Health (SOH) Program Manual

OPNAVINST 5100.19 Series
Navy Occupational Safety and Health (NAVOSH) Program Manual for Forces Afloat


Fall Protection Design Guidance Documents

Fall Protection for Aircraft Maintenance & Inspection Work
Provides tools, criteria, and safe work practices to identify, assess, abate, and control fall hazards when working at heights during aircraft maintenance operations, inspection, and other related work.

    EXSUM for Fall Protection for Aircraft Maintenance & Inspection Work

Department of the Navy, Fall Protection Guide for Ashore Facilities 
This Guide establishes criteria for developing fall protection programs to protect all Navy personnel (military and Department of Navy civilians) on Navy Ashore Facilities.

US Department of Labor Protection Standards Website  
Maritime and General Industry standards


General Fall Protection References

Ellis, J. Nigel PhD, CSP, PE Introduction to Fall Protection Third Edition American, 1999

Application of Human Systems Engineering Guidelines to Improve Safety, Access and Maintainability in Aircraft Carrier Storage Tanks  
Geiger, M.B., Proceedings of American Society of Safety Engineers Symposium on Human Systems Integration, June 2003

Application of System Safety to Prevention of Falls from Height in Design of Facilities, Ships and Support Equipment for Weapons Systems  
Geiger, M.B., Journal of System Safety, e-Edition, Volume 44, No. 3, June 2008

Maritime Fall Protection Issues Presentation at the National Safety Congress
Geiger, M.B., Chicago, Illinois, September 2003

NIOSH (2000) Review of Worker Death by Falls  
A Summary of Surveillance Findings and Investigative Case Reports. U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare, Center for Disease Control, CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication 2000-116


Fall Protection Regulations

29 CFR Part -  

•  1910 - General Industry
•  1910.23 - Guarding Floor and Wall Openings and Holes
•  1910.66 - Powered Platforms for Building Maintenance
•  1910.132 - General Requirements -- Personal Protective Equipment
•  1910.269 - Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution
•  1915 - Shipyard Employment
•  1915.159 - Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS)
•  1915.160 - Positioning Device Systems
•  1918 - Longshoring
•  1918.85 - Containerized Cargo Operations, includes Requirements for Fall Protection


Fall Protection Standards

•  ANSI Standard A10.11-1989 (R1998) - Safety Nets Used During Construction, Repair and Demolition Operations
•  New ANSI Standards:
    •  ANSI Z359.0 - ANSI Standards on the Fall Protection Program
    •  ANSI Z359.2 - Requirements for Positioning and Restraining Systems
    •  ANSI Z359.3 - Requirements for Assisted Rescue and Self-Rescue Systems, Subsystems and Components 


Information on Robotic Tank Inspection 

American Nuclear Society 8th Topical Meeting on Robotics and Remote Systems  
Abstracts describe a number of robotic systems that have been used to avoid the need for manned entry into hazardous locations, including fuel tanks that would otherwise have serious fall risks and potential atmospheric hazards.

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How to Contribute

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