On any jobsite, anywhere in the world, there will be environments that will require a fall protection system. Chances are that you’ve used them at some point in your career. It’s also pretty likely that at one point or another, the system either wasn’t sufficient or it wasn’t being used correctly. As many times as employers say they have the right equipment for the job, there are OSHA violations that say otherwise. Whether you are buying for the 1st time or the 100th, fall protection is not something to get complacent about.
Let’s build on the foundation of why fall protection is necessary and begin to construct a clear view of the complicated requirements and updates in standards. This will help minimize miscommunication on the job and make finding the right equipment easier than ever, so you can get on with your day.
As with any hazard, let’s remember OSHA’s Hierarchy of Controls:
- Elimination & Substitution: Remove or replace the hazard
- Engineering Controls: Keep workers away from the hazard
- Administrative Controls: Change the way people work
- PPE: Have workers use the right PPE for the job
Remember ANSI’s Z359.2 Fall Hazard Hierarchy is very similar to OSHA’s, but is specific to fall protection:
- Elimination or Substitution: This is easier to accomplish in the planning stages of a job. How can the work be completed without the need for a worker to be put at risk? Are there machines that could complete the task?
- Passive Fall Protection: Once attempts to eliminate a hazard are completed, barriers such as guardrails should be used to prevent worker from getting too close to a hazard or falling
- Active Fall Restraint: This requires active participation from the worker by wearing PPE such as a harness and using lanyards to tie off to prevent going near hazard or falling
- Active Fall Arrest: In this method of fall protection, a worker wears a full body harness and a shock absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lanyard to stop a fall. Safety nets and positioning devices can also be employed to limit a fall
- Administrative Controls: Some areas may be a fall hazard, but may not appear to be. That’s why warning signs, flags, audible alarms and fall protection training are necessary to protect workers and any bystanders
The ABCD’s of a Personal Fall Arrest System are nothing new to you, but here are some great products that can get the job done:
Anchorage Connectors: First off, make sure you have the right anchor for the job. Anchorage connectors also must be chosen based on the type of work being done, where they need to connect and what they need to connect to. Choosing the wrong anchor and anchorage connector can put workers at risk of serious and death.
- Roof anchors: Choose from permanent and temporary anchor points for work on roofs for maintenance, repair work or new construction
- Concrete anchors: Designed specifically for use with concrete applications to be attached to concrete decking or columns
- Vacuum anchors: Often used in aircraft and industrial manufacturing and maintenance, these anchors use a vacuum suction can attach to smooth and non-porous surfaces
Body Wear: Full body harness that connects worker to anchor and has the ability to distribute fall force through shoulders, thighs and pelvic region to reduce the risk of orthostatic intolerance.
Connectors: Energy absorbing lanyards, fall limiters, self-retracting lanyards, rope grabs or retrieval systems that provide the connection from body wear to anchorage point. Connectors will differ depending on whether it will be used with a personal fall arrest system, restraint or a work positioning device.
Descent & Rescue: Most often overlooked, but having a rescue plan is required by law. You don’t want to think about it, but having a program in place to deal with emergencies will reduce injury and increase chance of survival in the event of a fall. Just remember that not every rescue device will able to adapt to every situation. Always evaluate the hazards and plan accordingly.
Working Near or Above Water
Often overlooked is the need for the right protection when working near or over water. There are many dangers in this application that has led to many injuries and fatalities over the years and OSHA has specific requirements pertaining to life vests and fall protection. OSHA 1926.106 (a) states that “employees working above or near water, where the danger of drowning exists, shall be provided with U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket or buoyant work vests”. OSHA 1926.106 (b) states that prior to each use, the vests or life preservers must be inspected for defects that would alter strength or buoyancy. Defective units shall not be used.
OSHA makes an exception if the drowning hazard has been removed and continuous fall protection is used, but clearly states that safety nets will not count as eliminating drowning hazard. The reason is likely due to the materials used to do work in these applications may be heavy enough to damage the nets.
Falls kill more workers than any other cause in the construction industry. In fact it is considered to be one of Construction’s Fatal Four. In 2015 alone, there were a total of 364 deaths out of a total of 937 that were due to falls. Understanding every aspect of fall protection is a big endeavor, but a necessary one. Fall protection training goes further than just a quick review on-site, but should be an ongoing part of any safety program. It really is the only way to be sure your crew knows their equipment inside and out. Bonus, it also ensures a greater return on your investment and minimizes risk of citations.