Post written by Daniel Cieslak
Imagine making a phone call to someone’s spouse or parent to let them know their loved one died on your jobsite due to a lack of adequate fall protection. It’s not pleasant to think about – in fact; you probably recoiled a little reading that scenario.
A fall is defined as an event which results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or floor or other lower level. No one plans for this to happen; it is an accident – but as an employer, The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) expects you to prevent it.
It’s the Law
OSHA is the primary agency responsible for fall protection enforcement in the United States. OSHA provides the following general guidance on the subject.
“Employers must set up the work place to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated work stations or into holes in the floor and walls. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry and eight feet in long shoring operations. In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.”
What is a Fall Hazard?
Falls are one of the most common causes of work related injuries and deaths. Overall, about half of victims die at the scene, and a total of 70% die before they reach the hospital. The median height leading to death is about 49 feet and 100% of victims die after falling 85 feet or more. (Crit Care Med 33(6): 1239-1242, 2005). Given this startling fact, don’t you think enforcement of personal fall arrest systems is a battle you should pick?
Fall hazards include overhead platforms, elevated work stations, holes in the floors and walls, dangerous equipment and machinery and others. Basic fall protection would include guardrails, mid rails and toe boards. Openings must be properly barricaded or covered. Open sides, floors or platforms must be equipped with standard railings.
When is a Personal Fall Arrest System Required?
A personal fall arrest system is required for any worker on a construction site who is exposed to a vertical drop of six feet or more. The law that applies to this safety standard is 29 CFR 1926.502(d).
The laws are very specific as to the essential elements that make up an acceptable and complete fall arrest system. A personal fall arrest system is made of up three parts:
- Body harness
All three pieces must be in good condition, be compatible with each other and appropriate for the conditions. In addition, the personal fall arrest system is only effective if the employee using it has knowledge of how all the components work together to stop a fall.
Knowledge of the following topics is critical:
- How to select and install a secure anchorage
- How to select and use the appropriate connectors
- How to wear and use a body harness
- How to correctly attach and use a lanyard
- When to use a deceleration device
- How to use and erect a lifeline
The anchorage is the secure point of attachment for several parts of the fall arrest system: lifelines, lanyards and deceleration devices. An appropriate anchorage must be able to support at least 5,000 pounds. If it is unable to support this weight, other design elements must be considered by a qualified person before the system can be put to use.
The connecting device or connector is used to connect the body harness to the anchorage point. This may be a shock-absorbing lanyard, tie-back lanyard, retractable lifeline, rope grab and vertical lifeline, or similar device.
A connecting device should be selected based on the work to be performed and the work environment. In addition, it is critical to consider potential fall distance when determining the type of connecting device to be used.
The body harness is just what it sounds like – a complete, full body harness that secures your body and distributes the force of impact in such a way as to reduce injury in the event of a fall. In 1998, the law changed to state that body belts are no longer acceptable as part of a personal fall arrest system because they tend to concentrate the fall forces on the abdomen (where your vital organs live!). Thus, the body belt is no longer recommended. If you have this type of unit, you should invest in a more appropriate personal fall arrest system that meets current standards. Today’s full-body harnesses distribute fall forces throughout the body, substantially reducing the chance of injury and reducing the force of impact from a fall.
There is a guide to Personal Fall Protection Equipment published by International Safety Equipment Association that is a nice reference for any safety coordinator. There are also numerous websites you can reference when looking for proper fall arrest systems for your job site. A simple Google search will help you find the proper resources available in your area.
Please take the time to find the appropriate fall arrest system for the safety of your employees. Take the time to protect your employees. The proper equipment can avoid a serious injury or even a death.