How Do I Get Over My Fear of Falling

How Do I Get Over My Fear of Falling

Fear of falling is natural.  Once believed to occur only as a result of a traumatic experience, it has more recently become considered a condition you are born with.  Most people fear falling because – well – gravity.  We can’t fly.  We don’t bounce.  We fall, we land – sometimes harder than others.  With falls still hanging onto their crown as the king of construction fatalities as well as a leading cause of all occupational fatalities, this fear isn’t unjustified.  How, then, can somebody get over their fear of falling?

The first question to ask is “Should I get over my fear of falling?”  Yes, if your fear is an irrational one that paralyzes you and keeps you from doing your job, without a doubt you should do what you can to get over it.  However, before assuming that is the case, you first need to understand why you have this fear. 

  • Does this fear occur when you are on a roof completely surrounded by railings or does it occur only when you’re asked to work at the edge of a roof with no fall protection?
  • Does this occur when you climb a properly secured ladder or does it occur when you are climbing a ladder that is rocking and heaving with each step? 
  • Does this occur when you’re properly tied-off in an aerial boom lift or does it only occur when there were no harnesses available so you went up without one? 
  • Does it occur when you’re standing behind a railing over a piece of machinery that you could fall into or only one with no rail?

Obviously, the point I’m getting at is that if things are done right, and you have the proper protection, perhaps your fear doesn’t even exist.  Maybe your “phobia” is simply your subconscious mind trying to tell you that something isn’t right – that what you are doing is dangerous.  Heed this warning and assess your situation.  Make sure all the proper protection is in place before you proceed.

If your fear exists even in the best of conditions, this fear of heights, or fear of falling, should be addressed.  Sure, you could always get a job that doesn't require you to work at heights (and to be honest, if your fear is severe then you should consider doing this if it’s a possibility), but let’s assume that’s not an option at this point.  The method psychiatrists often use to cure people of an irrational fear is called desensitization.  This is the gradual exposure over time of the patient (you) to that which he or she fears (falling).  No, I’m not suggesting people knock you off of things that keep getting higher, rather, just expose yourself to increased heights for increased amounts of time.

First, find out where you start to get nervous.  This is the height you want to begin at.  Whether it’s on a scissor lift, boom lift, work platform, or any other height, force yourself to go up to that height and stay there for a brief period of time.  Try to take your mind off the fact that you are up in the air.  You can do this by taking in the view (though, since this fear is often sparked by visual cues, that might not be the best idea at first), speaking with whoever is helping you out with this exercise, or attempting to do some work.  Make sure that all of your fall protection is in place.  Remind yourself constantly that you are protected - that the equipment has been inspected - that the machine is being operated properly.  When it all gets to be a bit overwhelming, come on down.  Next time, see if you can stay up there longer.  When you get comfortable at that level, move higher.  Keep in mind, this could be time consuming and may not be something you are able to do during your work day.

If you find yourself in a situation that requires you to work at heights while you still aren’t 100% comfortable, look at your fall protection options.  There is nothing to prevent you from doubling up if it’s possible.  If you fear falling through or over a railing, see if there is a way to also wear a harness and tie-off.   Do whatever it takes to make yourself comfortable, but don’t try to be a hero.  Don’t withhold your fear from your supervisor because you’re embarrassed.  If you are uncomfortable at heights and nothing is abating the fear, you could be putting yourself and others in danger because you are not properly focused on the task.  Worse yet, you could pass out, causing that fall you fear.

Fear of heights could also be a medical issue and you should speak with your doctor if it’s extreme.  A body’s failure to be able to properly balance itself could lead to a fear of heights.  In this case, the fear is valid and something else is wrong that needs to be addressed.  From a medical standpoint, even if your fear isn’t a physiological issue, a doctor can still treat the symptoms.  Most likely, what you experience due to your fear of heights is anxiety.  A doctor can prescribe an anti-anxiety drug to help you overcome this fear…or, at least, be able to temporarily manage it.  If you go this route, you need to discuss your occupation with your doctor to see if the medication has any effects that will interfere with your work, or put you or somebody else in danger.

In the end, the only one who can know how much of a problem this is, is you.  Speak up about it and ask to be reassigned, if possible, until if and when you have the situation under control.  If you suspect a co-worker is dealing with this fear, talk to them.  Refusing to acknowledge it only puts you and those around you in danger.

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