fall protection workplace safety

Five Things to Consider Before Implementing a Fall Arrest System

Fall protection is one of the most relevant topics in workplace safety. It's easy to understand why when you look at the facts.

Falls are among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. Worker safety is imperative, and developing and implementing a fall protection program not only prevents injuries, but could save lives. In addition, regulatory agencies have increased fines for noncompliance with fall protection standards.

According to 2009 data compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 605 workers were killed and an estimated 212,760 were seriously injured by falls to the same or lower level. Fall injuries constitute a considerable financial burden for employers and injured employees; workers’ compensation and medical costs associated with occupational fall incidents have been estimated at approximately $70 billion annually in the United States.

While there are a number of reasons why many companies are not meeting today’s requirements for fall protection, the fact remains that employers have a legal and moral obligation to protect their people. There are five key points to consider when implementing a fall protection program. These points can help guide a decision, especially if you’re considering implementing a personal fall arrest system.

Point One: The 4-Foot Rule or "Do I Need Protection?"

Employers have a duty to provide workers with a place of employment free from recognized safety and health hazards. OSHA enforces regulation 1926, Subpart M for construction, and regulation 1910, Subparts D and F for general industry, which require fall protection be provided at 4 feet in general industry, 5 feet in shipyards, 6 feet in the construction industry, 8 feet in longshoring operations or at any height if working over dangerous equipment and machinery. If you have workers working at or above these heights in the circumstances described, then you legally are required to implement a suitable fall protection system.

Point Two:  Elimination or Protection?

  According to the most recent data compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 605 workers were killed and an estimated 212,760 were injured by falls to the same or lower level.  Fall injuries constitute a considerable financial  burden for employers, with costs associated with falls estimated at approximately $70  billion annually.

Once a fall hazard has been identified, there essentially are two options: eliminate the hazard or protect against it. In some cases, it is possible to eliminate a fall hazard through engineering controls by changing the working environment, processes and procedures. If this is not possible, fall prevention should be the next consideration.

Common fall prevention methods include installing guardrails, scaffolds, handrails or barriers. When passive fall protection solutions such as elimination or prevention are not practical, personal fall protection equipment, such as harnesses, lanyards and retractable lifelines, can be used. Personal fall protection may consist of a restraint system to keep the worker from reaching an area where a fall hazard exists, or a personal fall arrest system that enables a worker to perform their duties from the height required, while tied off to the system.

A restraint system prevents the worker from falling. You can restrain a worker by fitting them with a harness with a tether attached. A fixed-length lanyard is then attached to the D-ring on the harness and to a code-compliant anchorage system. Restraint typically is the preferred fall protection system when the environment allows, because a fall completely is avoided. However, there are many environments where it’s not optimal. Restraint systems don’t tend to be very flexible once they’re in place, they don’t always handle multiple workers well and the length of the system may be limited.

Fall arrest systems, when used with a properly rated full-body harness and connecting device, stop the fall in a controlled manner. The system should be professionally engineered and custom designed for the specific work environment.

Point Three:  The ABCs of a Fall Arrest System

There is an easy way to remember the components of a proper fall arrest system, which are anchorage, body support and connecting device (ABC).

Anchorage is a secure point to attach a lifeline, lanyard, deceleration device or any other fall arrest or rescue system, for example, structural steel members, precast concrete beams and wooden trusses. An anchorage connector (or an anchor) is a piece of equipment used as a safe means of attachment for the lanyard or lifeline to the anchorage, for example, cable and synthetic slings, roof anchors and beam clamps.

Proper body support in a fall arrest system requires a body harness. A body harness provides a connection point on the worker to distribute the forces evenly across the body in the event of a fall. A full-body harness is a body support device that distributes fall arrest forces across the shoulders, thighs and pelvis and has a center back fall arrest attachment for connection to the connecting device.

A connecting device is used to link the body support component of the system to the anchorage connector, such as a shock-absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lanyard (SRL). SRLs are deceleration devices containing a drum-wound line that slowly may be extracted from – or retracted onto – the drum under slight tension during normal movement. After a fall, the drum automatically locks and arrests the fall within 3.5 feet, which meets both OSHA and ANSI standards. SRLs work much like a car seat belt and are meant to be anchored directly above the worker to reduce the distance a worker swings from side to side as they fall.

Point Four:  Wire Rope versus Rigid Rail

In fall arrest there are two types of systems: those that use a wire rope to support a worker and those that use a rigid rail.

Wire rope systems require additional fall clearance due to the initial sag of the wire. The dynamic sag, or the stretch of the rope during a fall, adds to this distance. Rigid rail fall arrest systems eliminate any sag, stopping the fall in a much shorter distance than wire rope. Injuries occurring after the fall, such as swinging into obstacles, are minimized with a rigid rail fall arrest system.

A rigid rail fall arrest system allows for longer distances between supports, reducing both material and installation costs. When a worker falls on a wire rope system, any slack on the wire is eliminated. The result could be a sudden pull on the rope that could have a jarring effect on other workers on the same system. Rigid rail fall arrest systems provide uninterrupted protection for additional workers on the same system.

Point Five:  Rigid Flexibility

While the name might imply otherwise, rigid rail systems are a flexible form of fall arrest. Ideal for environments where there is limited clearance between the working level and lower level or obstruction, these systems provide a shorter free-fall distance and a reduced risk of secondary injury due to impacts during the free fall or sudden deceleration.

If you have determined you have a fall protection need, remember that a written, site-specific program should be developed, including detailed work procedures to protect your employees. The fall protection portion of your plan should state what measures are to be used, how they are to be used and a rescue plan, as well as the individual responsible for overall supervision and training.

 

Kevin Duhamel is a North American product manager with Gorbel Inc. Kevin has more than 15 years of safety industry experience and has specialized in fall protection since 2008. He is a certified fall protection–competent trainer and inspector. Gorbel provides overhead handling solutions to customers in a wide range of industries.

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