Fall protection and height safety is one of the most important safety issues that needs to be addressed on work sites on a daily basis. As we have discussed before, falls are the leading cause of deaths in the construction industry – in fact, they account for nearly half of the recorded deaths in the industry every year. It’s no wonder that NIOSH, OSHA, and state and industry organizations have made it a priority.
What if we told you that having an effective personal fall arrest system (PFAS) for your employees is as easy as remembering your ABCs?
Using anchors as a secure point of attachment to a fixed, weight-supporting structure is the starting point of an effective fall-arresting system. There are numerous versions available, all with different uses.
- Beam anchors attach to I-Beams, rebar, scaffolding, or rigid track systems.
- Concrete anchors are sunk into concrete, allowing you to create an anchor point when there are no convenient metal anchor points.
- Roof anchors attach to the edges of roofing, because sometimes there isn’t metal or concrete for use.
- Rope and cable grabs are used when there are no flat or steel surfaces to anchor to, and when mobility is necessary. These are often used on bridges, wind turbines, and similar sites where there are heavy-duty cables being used.
Effective anchorages need to be placed high enough so, in the case of a fall, a worker will avoid any contact with a lower level should a fall occur. These anchor points should be able to support 5,000 pounds of force per worker. It’s not as simple as a 200-pound worker needing 200 pounds of support. Every foot a person falls increases the force that occurs when the fall is arrested. The anchors also need to be strategically placed – an improperly-placed anchor can lead to a swing fall, where not only does the worker fall, but they swing as they fall. This move to horizontal momentum can send an employee swinging into a fall or another object, creating impact injuries.
The full-body harness worn by workers at height needs to be supportive, needs to cushion them, and needs to spread the force of a fall arrest. A full body harness helps to distribute fall arrest forces across the shoulders, thighs, and pelvis, and away from some of the more sensitive and susceptible areas of the human body. Even distribution helps to avoid causing additional injuries – after all, it’s no good if what stops the fall creates injuries that the fall itself might not have led to.
Body support must have at least a center back fall arrest attachment that connects to the fall arrest connecting device, but will often have more connectors and components to help in situations such as worker positioning, fall prevention, or intentional suspension.
You need to get from point A to point B – or in this case, from part A to part B of the PFAS. That’s where part C comes in. There are a variety of connectors that attach the body support to the anchor, and perform different functions
- Dee-rings and carabiners create secure connections, and utilize levered or screw gates to ensure that those connections are not lost. The unique shapes and structural quality of these fasteners makes them uniquely suited for height safety.
- Lanyards and lifelines connect directly from the anchor to the body support, and are the key connector. From basic rope lanyards, to self-retracting lifelines, these are what stops the falling employee and holds them in place until they can be brought down, or pulled back to safety.
- Deceleration devices help to dissipate energy during a fall arrest, reducing the energy imposed on the falling employee. Rip-stitch lanyards, energy- and shock-absorbing lanyards, tearing or deforming lanyards, and other technologies helps to remove some of the falling energy before the complete stop, reducing the abruptness and limiting some of the over-flexing or whiplash potential.
In some cases, the ABCs turn into the ABCDs. Not all falls are easy to recover or remove the worker from – while some may just need a ladder to get the worker down, in other cases, more complex equipment may be necessary.
For instance, a trauma relief strap can help to prevent the effects of suspension trauma after a fall. They attach easily to any harness, and stay out of the way when not needed. However, they are easy to deploy, and can help prevent the dangerous symptoms brought on should a fallen worker have to hang in their harness to await rescue. Retrieval systems and their accessories can help to safely move or remove workers, with stable bases and easy operation. They help to bring in the fallen worker without endangering the safety of other workers on the site.
The most important piece of equipment for rescue? Having a plan in place that can lead to the rescue of a fallen individual in under fifteen minutes, and practicing that response so it becomes second nature for your team. OSHA’s guidelines can help you build your fall protection arsenal to be prepared and equipped.
Our team here at PowerPak Civil and Safety is waiting to help you put together the fall protection and height safety packages that your team needs to ensure that very worker goes home safe and sound, day after day. Reach out to our team of experts, who can guide you through the needs of a fall protection program, help to work with your budgetary constraints, and create a safer construction site for everyone. Join us on our quest to reduce, and maybe even eliminate, those construction fall fatalities that strike every year.