Falls are a significant cause of serious injuries. In most cases, the failure to use any kind of fall protection equipment has led to many unfortunate tragedies.
One small mistake can kill. Many people think that as long as they spend a lot of money on fall protection, they’re doing the right thing. The truth is fall protection doesn’t only involve planning, training, and appropriate use of personal protective equipment; it also includes regular inspections and proper maintenance.
For your own safety and the safety of others, it’s important to know the basic types of fall protection and what works best for each situation and your budget. Understanding the concept of fall protection correctly will safeguard you from falls as well as minimize potential damage and losses resulting from possible incidents.
1. Guardrail Systems
Guardrail systems are a form of passive fall protection, as they require no action from the workers once the system is installed. They’re excellent for lowering or eliminating the risk of falling by providing a barrier between the workers and an open edge. Guardrail systems usually consist of top rails, midrails, and vertical rails between them.
There are two types of guardrails.
Non-Penetrating Rooftop Guardrails
Non-penetrating rooftop guardrails are a counterbalanced system that are easily assembled and require no training or ongoing maintenance. They’re versatile and can be adapted to just about any existing rooftop obstacles and roofs of varying heights. You can also modify them on-site without any difficulties. However, the initial product cost can be higher than other protection types.
In contrast to non-penetrating rooftop guardrail systems, parapet guardrails are permanent solutions involving direct attachment to the side or top of a roof parapet. They’re relatively less expensive than a counterbalanced system (around $160–$500 for 28″ length). No ongoing training is needed. However, in most cases, you might need specialized installment for proper sealing of penetrations. This leads to higher labor and installation costs.
2. Fall Restraint or Fall Arrest?
Installing guardrails or barriers at a work site isn’t always practical. When it’s not possible to eliminate the risk of falling, you may need personal fall protection equipment. You can use either fall restraint or fall arrest systems to minimize the consequences of a fall.
Fall restraint systems prevent you from falling, while fall arrest systems protect you after a fall by stopping the fall before you hit the surface below. They’re both active fall protection systems – they require action from the user each time they’re utilized.
Fall Restraint Systems
Fall restraint systems allow workers to conduct their duties but prevent them from reaching a point where a fall could occur. These systems are suitable if you need to work at the edge of a hazardous fall zone.
Typically, the system is a combination of work-positioning equipment (i.e. a lanyard, an anchor, a lifeline, a swing stage, a full-body harness, or a connector) and fall-restricting equipment (i.e. rope grabs, lineman pole climbing belts, or fall arresters).
Make sure the fall restraint system’s anchor is designed to support at least 3000 pounds. Moreover, it must be installed, maintained, and used under the supervision of specialized personnel.
Fall Arrest Systems
A fall arrest system keeps workers from making contact with the ground below after they’ve fallen. It provides maximum freedom of movement to conduct their duties by allowing them to reach the point where a fall could occur.
In general, a personal fall arrest system consists of a strong anchor, a lanyard, connectors, and a full-body harness. Occasionally, it also includes a lifeline and a deceleration device. Keep in mind that like fall restraint systems, this system only becomes effective if the user knows how the equipment pieces work together to minimize the arrest force.
For instance, a non-penetrating tie off anchor point is a fall arrest product. Workers can tie off in a particular location. At the same time, they can freely move the system around when it’s needed elsewhere.
A personal fall arrest system can cost anywhere from $50–$4,000. In addition, it involves training; ongoing inspection; a valid rescue plan; and additional work time calculations for each job, as a worker must set up and tear down the equipment. These requirements might make fall arrest systems not as attractive at first. The reality, however, is this concerns someone’s life.
A fatal accident can seriously affect your business. To minimize the most expensive hazards, always develop a rescue plan ahead of time. Be aware that the fall arrest equipment must be inspected by a competent professional and repaired to meet standard specifications before being used.
3. Planning and Training
Planning and training are indispensable to employees who are engaged in working at heights and in the construction industry. According to government regulations, written plans must be available to all people at any work site where there’s potential for a fall. Stay up-to-date with the latest OSHA standards and inspect your fall protection equipment on a regular basis.
You shouldn’t rely heavily on professional emergency rescue services. They’re not the ultimate solution for post-fall rescue events. In the end, it is the company’s responsibility to provide and execute the rescue of their workers. That being said, a properly developed fall protection and rescue plan must include timely notification of emergency and medical assistance to the accident scene; an on-scene rescue plan should be in motion while awaiting their arrival.
Training is fundamental to the successful implementation of any fall protection plan. Merely providing educational or instructional literature materials isn’t enough to ensure a positive outcome in a fall event. Training also entails practical demonstration where personnel can safely practice their working knowledge and skills. Ideally, training needs assessment to measure the success of the program.
Deliberate preparation is crucial before you pick a fall protection system. A good place to start is to identify the evolution of hazard possibilities at your work site.
Once you’ve chosen a system, make sure to plan it well. Consider all the factors that could affect your safety as well as the hidden future costs. Likewise, train yourself thoroughly. At the end of the day, we’re not talking about a sprained ankle or a few scratches. We’re talking about your life.