Thousands of workers around the country are familiar with OSHA’s three-step process for preventing dangerous falls on the job: plan, provide, and train.

In practical terms, that means companies should plan ahead for adequate fall protection at each job site, provide all necessary safety gear like rigging equipment, lifting gear, and slings, and train employees to use that equipment. In many cases, workers will be required to complete OSHA fall protection training courses, while managers may be required to obtain a fall protection competent person training certification.

If all this seems like a lot of red tape, then you wouldn’t be the first person in the construction industry to long for the days of old, when tough men would casually eat lunch atop a skyscraper scaffold without a thought in the world for a fall protection system.

This is a dangerous line of thinking. Ultimately, providing safe lifting gear, fall protection equipment, and fall arrest training is literally the least an employer can do for their employers. Worker injuries and illnesses are way down in this country, from 10.9 incidents per 100 employees in 1972 to just 3.4 in 2010. But the reason injuries have fallen is precisely because more companies are putting safety first, not out of regulatory burdens, but because it’s the right thing to do.

But what happens when you forget to abide by the lessons learned from your OSHA fall protection certification? Simply head to Google News and search for “OSHA fall protection,” and you’ll see.

Every week, new stories break about employers who ignored OSHA guidelines and received expensive fines as a result. Not only do these fines eat into a company’s bottom line, but they can also make it harder to attract new workers for upcoming jobs.

In the most recent story, OSHA cited and fined five companies working on a Lincoln, Nebraska, apartment complex. While some companies might mistakenly believe that what OSHA doesn’t know won’t hurt them, it’s common practice for federal safety investigators to go undercover and observe job sites, either in a random inspection or after receiving complaints from workers.

At the Lincoln apartment complex, investigators observed workers exposed to serious safety hazards, including workers exposed to fall hazards five stories high. Now, five companies have just 15 days to comply with fines up to $65,450, an amount sure to eat into the income that company would have received from the job.

This story is just one of hundreds of such examples we could have used here. Remember: if you ignore safety regulations, it’s only a matter of time until you get fined. And that’s actually the best case scenario. Because if you ignore OSHA fall protection guidelines, then it’s only a matter of time until someone on your team is injured or killed. Without the right fall protection equipment, a worker can fall seven feet in two-thirds of a second, meaning a fatal workplace accident can literally happen in the blink of an eye.