Working at height is a common activity in many industries, such as construction, maintenance, roofing, and painting. However, it also involves significant risks of falling and injuring yourself or others. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls are the leading cause of death in construction and one of the most common causes of serious work-related injuries across all industries.
To prevent falls and protect workers from harm, employer and worker needs to use a fall protection system that is appropriate for the work environment and the tasks being performed. A fall protection system consists of three main components: an anchorage point, a body harness, and a connector. These components work together to stop a fall or minimize the impact of a fall.
An anchorage point is a secure point of attachment for the connector. It must be able to support at least 5,000 pounds -around 2300kg (22.2 kN) per worker attached or be designed and installed under the supervision of a qualified person. An anchorage point can be a structural member, such as a beam or a column, or a specially designed device, such as an eyebolt or a roof anchor. The location and orientation of the anchorage point should be chosen to minimize the free fall distance and the swing fall potential.
A body harness is a device that distributes the fall arrest forces over the worker’s body. It consists of straps that fit around the worker’s chest, shoulders, thighs, and waist. A body harness should be adjusted to fit snugly but comfortably on the worker. It should not have any loose or excess straps that could get caught on objects or interfere with movement. A body harness should also have a dorsal D-ring that connects to the connector.
A body harness is different from a safety belt, which only fits around the waist and can cause serious injuries in a fall. OSHA prohibits the use of safety belts for fall arrest purposes.
A connector is a device that links the body harness to the anchorage point. It can be a lanyard, a lifeline, a deceleration device, or a combination of these. A connector should be chosen based on the type of work being performed, the distance to the nearest lower level, and the presence of any obstructions or hazards below.
A lanyard is a flexible line that connects the body harness to the anchorage point or another component of the fall protection system. It can be made of rope, wire rope, webbing, or cable. A lanyard should have a snap hook at each end that can be easily attached and detached. A lanyard should also have a shock absorber that reduces the impact force of a fall.
A lifeline is a flexible or rigid line that connects one or more workers to an anchorage point. It can be horizontal or vertical depending on the configuration of the fall protection system. A lifeline should have adequate strength and durability to withstand the forces of a fall.
A deceleration device is a mechanism that slows down or stops a falling worker. It can be integrated into the lanyard or lifeline or be separate from them. A deceleration device can be a rip-stitch lanyard, a tearing or deforming lanyard, an automatic self-retracting lifeline/lanyard (SRL), or an automatic/manual rope grab.
Fall Protection System Types
There are two main types of fall protection systems: passive and active. Passive systems do not require any action from the worker to prevent or arrest a fall. They include guardrails, nets, covers, and fences. Active systems require the worker to wear and use a body harness and other components to prevent or arrest a fall. They include fall restraint systems and fall arrest systems.
A fall restraint system prevents the worker from reaching an edge or an opening where they could fall. It consists of an anchorage point, a body harness, and a fixed-length lanyard that limits the worker’s movement.
A fall arrest system stops the worker after they have fallen from an edge or an opening. It consists of an anchorage point, a body harness, and a connector that absorbs the energy of the fall and reduces the impact force on the worker’s body.
Fall Protection System Maintenance
A fall protection system should be inspected before each use by the worker and at least annually by a competent person.
Staying Safe at Height: The Importance of Fall Protection Systems
When working at height, it’s important to prioritize safety. One way to do this is by using a fall protection system. A fall protection system typically includes a full body harness, a safety lanyard, and a fall arrest or restraint system.
A full body harness is designed to distribute the force of a fall across the body, reducing the risk of injury. The harness should fit snugly and be adjusted to the wearer’s body size. A safety lanyard connects the harness to an anchor point, providing a secure connection. Lanyards can be retractable or have a shock absorber to reduce the impact of a fall.
A personal fall arrest system is designed to stop a workers from hitting the ground or lower level in the event of a fall. A fall restraint system, on the other hand, prevents the worker from reaching an area where they could fall.
It’s important to choose the right equipments for the job and to follow safety guidelines when using a fall protection system. Regular inspection and maintenance of equipment is also crucial to ensure its effectiveness.
In summary, using a full body harness, safety lanyard, and fall arrest or restraint system can help keep workers safe when working at height.