The construction industry is a crucial component of our nation’s economy, providing jobs and building infrastructure. However, the workers involved are often subjected to serious risks while working at height.
Between new OSHA regulations, American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards, and changing jobsite requirements, developing a fall protection program can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Follow this step by step guide to implementation of your fall protection program.
Analyze the work zone
Hazards are inevitable on every jobsite. To prevent an accident from occurring, perform a hazard analysis to determine potential areas of risk. Hazards vary by jobsite. For example, the height at which the work is performed or the number of employees using the area are just two factors that could contribute to a potential hazard. Once hazard areas are identified, you can begin to determine what type of fall protection equipment you need to keep your workers safe.
According to the ANSI hierarchy of fall protection, the most desirable form of fall protection is elimination of the need to work from height (ANSI Z359.2 section 5.1). This can be achieved by modifying the job description, work process, or work area.
If the hazard cannot be eliminated, implementing passive fall restraint systems or active fall arrest systems is necessary. Passive fall restraint includes using guardrails or ladder cages and requires little to no engagement by the worker.
Slightly more sophisticated, active fall restraint systems use specialized lanyards and anchors to eliminate the possibility of a fall. These systems prevent workers from approaching a hazard area where a fall might occur.
When it is not possible to use passive fall protection systems, active fall arrest systems are essential to worker safety. Personal fall arrest systems require training to ensure workers use all components properly and effectively.
Once you’ve determined which type of system is appropriate, correct implementation is critical. Let’s focus on the most complex active fall arrest systems. The four components of a complete system are as easy to remember as ABCD.
Anchorage: As the secure point of attachment for the fall arrest system, the type of anchorage appropriate for the job varies by industry, work being performed, installation, and the structure available. The anchorage structure must be capable of supporting at least 5000 pounds/worker attached or meet OSHA’s criteria of a 2-to-1 safety factor.
Body support: Full body harnesses provide a connection point on the worker for the personal fall arrest system. A properly connected harness is a critical component of a fall arrest system and distributes fall forces over the upper thighs, pelvis, chest, and shoulders in case of a fall.
Connectors: A connector, such as a shock-absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lifeline, links the worker’s harness to an anchorage. The connector must absorb energy and stop the fall so that the worker cannot hit an obstruction below.
Descent & rescue: A necessary aspect of implementing your fall protection program is ensuring you have a rescue plan to allow for rescue or retrieval of the fallen worker. Rescue systems raise or lower the worker to a safe location.
After the four components of a complete active fall arrest system are identified, be sure to consider the comfort and mobility needs of your workers. Equipment should be easy to use and comfortable to wear to ensure workers comply with regulations and perform tasks without it getting in the way, thereby optimizing safety.
Calculating fall clearance
When installing and using a personal fall arrest system, fall clearance and swing fall hazards are critical considerations. Should a fall occur, there must be sufficient clearance below the worker to arrest the fall before the worker strikes the ground or any other object (see Figure 1). Determine if the system will arrest the fall within the available clearance and account for these factors:
- Anchorage location: If possible, place the anchorage point directly above the point where a fall would occur. If this is not done, it can result in a swing fall, lengthening the free fall distance.
- Connecting system: Both the type and the length of the connecting system affect the calculation of the fall clearance. Know your equipment to get the most accurate calculation.
- Deceleration distance: Deceleration devices, including rope grabs, lanyards, and self-retracting lifelines, should allow 3.5 to 5 feet based on the type and design.
- Height of suspended worker: This distance should account for D-ring slide and harness stretch. Most often, 6 feet is used to represent the height of the suspended worker.
- Nearest obstruction: Know where the nearest object is, including the ground, that the worker could hit in the event of a fall, and allow for a small safety factor to accommodate for D-ring movement and system material stretch.
- Swing falls: If the anchorage point cannot be positioned directly above the point where a fall would occur, the result is a swing fall. Fall clearance calculations need to take into account the distance the worker can move horizontally as the total vertical distance will be greater in a swing fall (see Figure 2).
The importance of training
A fall protection program is useless if workers do not know how to correctly use the equipment. Maximize your investment in equipment by providing training for workers on how to use each component of the system.
The key to effective fall protection training is a combination of classroom knowledge and practical, hands-on experience. Training should not be a general overview, but an in-depth tutorial on regulations, potential hazards, equipment selection and proper use, and correct maintenance procedures.
Inspection & maintenance
Once rigged, the maintenance of the equipment is crucial to the safety of the employees and jobsite. Everyday use can take a toll on safety equipment, even when it’s not involved in a fall.
Before each use, workers should inspect the equipment. Formal inspections should be performed annually. Inspection must include hardware (snap hooks, D-rings, and buckles), looking for damage such as distortion, corrosion, burrs, cracks, and worn parts. Also, check mechanical parts to ensure working operation. Inspect webbing, wire rope, and synthetic rope for frays, cuts, or kinks, and look for any indication of corrosion from mold, burns, or chemical contact, such as heavy soiling or discoloration and severely abraded areas. After a fall event, equipment should not be used again until it can be determined to be safe for further use.
After use, ensure equipment is properly stored in a cool, dry, and clean environment. Be sure workers are following a maintenance schedule by keeping an accurate record of inspections.
The bottom line
Following these simple tips will contribute to the effectiveness of your fall protection program and safety of your workers. Protecting your workers calls for safety procedures, quality equipment, training, and worker compliance. Safety directly translates to cost-savings for your business and quality of life for your employees and their families.
Capital Safety is a leading designer and manufacturer of height safety and fall protection equipment. For more information, contact them at 800-328-6146 or visit www.capitalsafety.com.
Each year, the American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC) recognizes the nation’s safest concrete contractors. Two contractors—one general and one specialty—are selected each year to win the W. Burr Bennett Award for Safety Excellence. The prestigious award is named in honor of former ASCC executive director, W. Burr Bennett. This year’s winners are:
Specialty Contractor Award
Prus Construction Co., Cincinnati, OH.
General Contractor Award
Check back next issue for a review of what made these companies winners. The awards will be presented as part of the ASCC Annual Conference, co-sponsored by CNA, Sept. 20–23, 2012 in Lisle, Ill. at the Wyndham Lisle Chicago Hotel.