Fall Protection. This is something I didn’t even know existed before I bought MC Tool & Safety Sales. I didn’t know four feet and six feet were key heights or that there are passive and active fall protection systems out there. What I was most surprised to learn was NOT how these systems can save lives BUT if you use them incorrectly, they can take lives just as easily.
I had the opportunity to take a competent person training class right when I started in the industry, I’ll set the stage that I was new to construction, new to safety, new to everything and barely knew what those harnesses we were selling did. For those of you who haven’t taken this training, it is two days with some lecture, a lot of question and answer and even some hands on, or should I say, harness on, training.
The best thing I learned was to ask the right questions. Can we eliminate the hazard all together? If not, can we use passive protection to secure the area or a restraint system to secure the worker so he or she cannot fall? If the answer to all of these is no, then our only option is to create a fall arrest system and make sure we have a RESCUE plan in place.
FALL PROTECTION OPTIONS
Fall Prevention (Isolation) vs. Fall Restraint (Engineering) vs. Fall Arrest (PPE)
Guardrail 1000 lb cap/3000 lb positioning 5000 lb capacity
Warning Lines Harness or Belt Harness
Hole Covers Non-Shock Absorbing Lanyard Shock Absorbing Lanyard/SRL
Now that we know there are a few ways to handle working at heights, we know that eliminating the need to work at heights is the safest. What can we do on the ground or where can we make changes so we don’t have to physically work above ground level? If we cannot eliminate working at heights, how can we engineer the space so people are not working near the fall hazard? This can be permanent or temporary guard rails and walls or it can be physically tying the person off with a non-shock absorbing lanyard and a solid anchor point so their body cannot reach the edge.
If we cannot prevent these falls completely, we need to anchor our workers firmly with a shock absorbing lanyard or SRL (Self-Retracting Lanyard) that allows that person to move around the space and if the lanyard is pulled at a fast rate, such as the speed one might fall, it will brake and stop the fall within 24” and up to a force of 1800 pounds. This actually means that the SRL must be rated to 3600 pounds – but you are going to have to take the course to find out all the whys on that one.
WHAT IS YOUR RESCUE PLAN (HINT, THIS IS WHAT KEEPS YOUR WORKERS ALIVE IF THEY FALL!!)
You know your space, you’ve picked your plan – what else do we need to worry about? Well, if you have eliminated the chance that your worker will fall, you are good to go. But if you are using a fall arrest system you need to have a RESCUE PLAN in place. Calling 911 CANNOT be the only plan you have if someone falls. The most devastating thing I learned during this training is that when you are in a fall arrest situation, that is you have fallen and are hanging by your harness, that the harness itself cuts the blood circulation off to your brain. This means, you can die if you just hang there, in as little as 15 minutes if you are an average healthy human.
Luckily, there are some items right at your fingertips that can help. Trauma straps that attach to the harness give you something to stand on that will remove the threat of cutting off circulation to your major organs. They are less than $30 and should be attached to every harness. These work great if you fall and are in a well-fitting harness and are still conscious. Once you are standing, you can yell to your crew mates or use your phone to call for help. You may choose to use a decent kit that you can use or be given to get you out of trouble too. It all depends upon your rescue plan!
If the person that falls is unconscious, then the crew mates need to have a rescue plan in place to do just that, rescue their friend. This can include an extension ladder, a rescue kit or ladder or even a scissor lift or bucket truck, but you will want to note that it needs to be on the premise solely for this plan, not ½ mile away at the other end of the jobsite being used to run the sprinkler line. This is an opportunity for contractors to work together, if the safety directors are in communication on the site these resources can be shared.
WE NEED TO TIE OFF MORE THAN THE PEOPLE
This is a good time to mention the newest form of fall protection – TOOL TETHERING! Not only can your workers fall, but even their smallest tools can be deadly weapons when gravity gets involved. The terminal velocity of a 1 pound tape measure is 38.21 mph when dropped from a 400 foot high building (See the article here) and has killed a man who was delivering wall board to a jobsite. This man was not wearing a hard hat, so you can expect to hear more about PPE and all the new hard hats coming out this year in a future Erika Blog.
Finally, most of us will agree that it is of the utmost importance to talk about all these plans and hazards with your crew. Many companies hold toolbox talks before each shift. This is a great time to talk about what the plan is for that day, who is working at heights and how you are preparing for it. None of us want to have an accident, no-one wants to fall, but most importantly if these accidents happen, we want to be able to walk away and make it home to our family after work. Let’s work together to get #EveryoneHomeSafe.
Thanks for listening today. Please call us if you need anything! Erika