Whether working atop bridges or refuse vehicles, your employees are often subjected to serious risks while working at height. But between new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, national consensus American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards, and changing jobsite requirements, developing a fall-protection program can seem overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be if you follow these steps.

Analyze the work zone

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 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, implement passive fall-restraint systems or active fall-arrest systems. 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’s 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 utilize all components properly and effectively.

Know your ABCDs

Once you’ve determined which type of system is appropriate for your jobsite, 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, type of work being performed, type of installation, and the structure available. The anchorage structure must be capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds/worker attached or meet OSHA’s criteria of a 2:1 safety factor.

Body support. Full-body harnesses provide a connection point on the worker for the personal fall-arrest system. A properly connected full-body 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, is a device that links the worker’s full-body harness to an anchorage. The connector must absorb energy and stop the fall so that the worker cannot hit an obstruction below.

Descent & rescue: Ensure you have a rescue plan for rescue or retrieval of the fallen worker. Rescue systems raise or lower the worker to a safe location.

It’s also important 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 can perform tasks without equipment getting in the way.

Calculate 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 chart at top left). 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, the result could be a swing fall, lengthening the free-fall distance. Read more on swing falls below.
  • 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: This is the elongation of the decelerating device when deployed. 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 and the worker is at risk of striking an object while swinging. 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 chart at bottom left).

Emphasize training

A fall-protection program is useless if workers don’t know how to correctly use the equipment. Maximize your equipment investment by providing training for workers on how to use each component of the fall-protection system.

The key to effective 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, maintaining fall-protection equipment is crucial to the safety of both employees and the jobsite. Everyday use can take a toll on safety equipment, even when it is not involved in a fall.

  • Before each use, the worker should inspect the equipment.
  • After a fall event, equipment should not be used again until it can be examined and determined to be safe for further use.
  • After use, ensure equipment is properly stored in a cool, dry, and clean environment.

Formal inspections should also be performed annually:

  • Inspections must include hardware (snap hooks, D-rings, and buckles).
  • Look for damage such as distortion, corrosion, burrs, cracks, and worn parts.
  • Check mechanical parts to ensure working operation.
  • Inspect webbing, wire rope, and synthetic rope for frays, cuts, or kinks.
  • Look for any indication of corrosion from mold, burns, or chemical contact such as heavy soiling or discoloration and severely abraded areas.

Be sure workers are following a maintenance schedule by keeping a timely and accurate record of inspections.

Protecting your workers calls for well-defined safety procedures, quality equipment, training, and worker compliance. Worker safety directly translates to cost-savings for your operation and quality of life for your employees and their families.

Firl ([email protected]) is the North American technical manager at Capital Safety. This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Concrete Construction, a sister magazine of Public Works.