Portable fall protection equipment varies extensively across industries and sites, but the general purpose remains constant. Like fixed and permanent fall protection systems, portable protection exists to eliminate workplace accidents caused by falls in adherence to OSHA requirements.
Unlike fixed installations, however, portable fall protection can be used temporarily, generally takes minimal installation efforts, and utilizes less invasive installation techniques on the site than permanent fixtures. Common types of portable fall protection equipment include fall-arrest systems, like lifelines and harnesses; as well as portable guardrails and mobile platforms, ladders, and stairs.
Depending on your industry, site, and the specific OSHA requirements related to it, you might need to consider a permanent fixture such as a safety rail system as opposed to using something portable. Here is a list of some common industries that require fall protection, along with the type of protection and specific equipment styles that can be used for each. When it comes to safety options for elevated work, careful consideration of all factors is essential to maintaining and optimizing the safety of your work environment.
Railcars and Trucks
For an industry that’s dependent on movement, certain protective measures should also be mobile. Unless elevated unloading or maintenance is done in a warehouse or other covered setting, fixed platforms and rail systems would likely not be useful. Mobile platforms, stairways, and catwalks are all commonly used for railcar and truck work from heights, in addition to mobile anchorage points for use in personal fall-arrest equipment.
OSHA’s requirements for fall protection pertaining to rolling stock have changed as per the Miles Memorandum of 1996. These provisions leave a lot of employer discretion and authority when work is being done on rolling stock outside a covered area. Despite this flexibility beyond an indoor facility, preventative measures should be carefully considered when working on mobile elevated units.
OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.23(c)(1) states that “every open-sided floor or platform 4 feet or more above adjacent floor or ground level shall be guarded by a standard railing on all open sides.” This applies to rooftops of all shapes, slopes, and heights. Workers accessing the roofs of buildings must be protected by either passive fixtures, such as guardrails, or carry and utilize their own personal fall-arrest systems. Both passive and active rooftop fall protection can be portable, and the decision to fix permanent structures like anchors could depend on aesthetic, financial, or time-related factors.
Aviation and Aircraft
Similar to grounded transportation, working at heights on an aircraft often requires mobility, so portable fall protection is widely used. Depending on the location, fixed equipment – such as permanent overhead rigid rail systems – could also be utilized for a safe aircraft workspace.
Depending on the type of crane system in place, portable protection might be the only option. Construction and maintenance usually require mobility and adaptability. As such, the most convenient fall protection style is a non-permanent one. However, for many industrial-style crane systems, elevated platform setups need to be equipped with guardrails as per OSHA’s regulations; these could either be portable or fixed.
Tanks and Silos
As defined by OSHA, a storage tank should be treated as a platform: “a working space for persons, elevated above the surrounding floor or ground.” The tops of storage tanks and silos do not meet OSHA standards for work and maintenance without including either portable or fixed guardrails on all sides. Additionally, OSHA mandates that “each employee required to work on stored material in silos, hoppers, tanks, and similar storage areas shall be equipped with personal fall arrest equipment.”
Manufacturing, Industrial, and Distribution Centers
Oftentimes, manufacturing and industrial sites will require permanent fall protection installation due to the consistency of height-related work. These systems might include permanent platforms, safety gates, anchor points, catwalks, and lifelines.
In addition, however, there is often a need for mobility within a manufacturing or industrial plant, so various methods of portable fall protection could also be considered. Collapsible and non-permanent railings, moving catwalks, and ladders could be useful in instances of temporary construction, maintenance, or mobile work in general.
Dams and Bridges
As these fixed structures are generally over water, fall safety installation procedures can prove difficult and dangerous for dams and bridges. A fixed platform and railing system might be best for these industries. However, using a temporary platform for construction might be necessary for certain work. In this case, OSHA would consider this portable platform in the same category as scaffolding.
Shopping Centers, Entertainment, and Offices
One of the most commonly overlooked safety hazards of these industries are unprotected skylights. OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1910.23 states, “(a) (4) Every skylight, floor opening, and hole shall be guarded by a standard skylight screen or fixed standard railing on all exposed sides.” These permanent solutions can be non-invasive and life-saving. In addition to skylights, non-permanent guardrails or fixed guardrails should also be in place as per OSHA’s rooftop requirements.
Currently, falls are the leading cause of injuries from communication tower maintenance and construction. As an industry with high investment in infrastructure, durability and longevity of protective equipment is essential. For most telecommunications work on tower sites, permanent fall protection installations are most efficient and effective.
Utilities and Energy
Recently, OSHA made some changes to its requirements for work in the utilities industry to prevent falls and other accidents. These updates mandate that “depending on the circumstances, the standard requires one of three types of fall protection: a personal fall arrest system, a fall restraint system, or work-positioning equipment.” Each system can be fixed from either a portable anchorage point, such as a mobile fall-arrest post or dead-weight anchor, or a fixed installation.
In addition to rooftop standards, there are some building maintenance guidelines you must adhere to when working on an elevated surface without edges. These might also require some portable protective solutions, like suspended platforms that can be used temporarily. For consistent or longer-term periodic maintenance, however, permanent measures should be taken to ensure the most efficient, safe, and cost-effective prevention against falls.
Permanent fixtures such as anchorage points, sockets, and davits systems for roof-rigged or ground-rigged self-powered platforms, as well as roof cars, are all commonly used for optimal maintenance safety and performance.
There are a number of situations that call for portable fall protection. From industry to industry, these systems save lives when implemented properly. Though there are differences varying from each field of work and situation, the goal remains the same: keeping your team safe.
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