How to Prevent Falls
How to Prevent Falls When Working at Heights
By Alexandra Serban
We don’t need to restate the serious risks posed by working at height, right? You have probably heard about OSHA’s Fatal Four – the four leading causes of injury and death in the construction industry.
Fall hazards are the number one hazard on construction sites.
Nearly half of construction worker fatalities involve falls from height, according to reports. On construction sites, slipping, tripping and falling are more frequent than other types of accidents such as vehicle collisions or being hit by a moving object. Non-fatal fall-related incidents are also of high-concern and the main reason workers spent precious time away from work. To businesses, this time translates to days of lost productivity and efficiency.
Why is falling still a big problem? How do we prevent falls and ensure the safety of workers?
Here are three common challenges and ways to address them:
1. Conducting a comprehensive fall risk assessment
Any project requires planning. A risk assessment helps avoid worker injury or death by determining what could happen in case of a fall, the likelihood of it happening, whether control measures are in place, what actions to take and how urgently they need to be taken.
To mitigate risk, we first need to identify foreseeable hazards and eliminate them. If this is not reasonably practicable, control measures need to be implemented and regularly reviewed to maintain a healthy and safe work environment.
Identifying fall hazards requires identifying all locations and tasks where falls might occur. Spaces that typically need extra attention include:
1. Structures being constructed or installed, demolished or dismantled, inspected, repaired or cleaned.
2. Fragile surfaces such as rusty metal roofs and skylights
3. Potentially unstable surfaces
4. Elevating work platforms or portable ladders
5. Sloping or slippery surfaces such as glazed tiles
6. Unprotected open edges
7. Holes or pits
Inspecting the workplace also implies talking to workers and technical specialists to check various aspects such as the design, layout and ultimately, stability of these structures and their load bearing capacity. The proximity and number of workers that work in unsafe areas and the quality of lighting are also aspects worth considering.
A proper assessment also includes reviewing all the available documents including incident records and “near miss” incidents. It’s also useful to check information available from regulators, industry associations, unions and safety consultants.
2. Finding the right anchorage point
Anchorage is the first step in a fall arrest system. Anchors are secure points of attachment for horizontal or vertical lines, lanyards and other equipment to support the loads imposed during a fall. They can be permanent or temporary and vary to suit the type of structure available.
Position is key to control the way a worker falls. An anchorage should be positioned directly overhead to avoid the pendulum effect. An incorrectly-positioned anchor point can swing the worker back and forth. This means he/she can strike nearby surfaces and get hurt. The wider the angle between anchor point and worker, the longer it takes for the descending worker to reach a position beneath the anchor, when a self-retracting lifeline can arrest the fall.
Installing the anchor point directly above the work area and ensuring the critical angle does not exceed 30 degrees will help prevent such accidents.
When workers risk falling over an edge and don’t have the option to use a higher anchor point, it’s vital to use SRLs that are fully edge-tested and approved to be attached at ground level. It’s also important to consider the distance needed for the SRL to operate, its location and distance to the ground so the worker does not hit the ground.
3. Selecting and using PFPE correctly
There are three key components of a personal fall arrest system (PFAs) – a harness, a connection and an anchorage point. When used properly and in conjunction with each other, they provide an efficient fall prevention system.
However, different work scenarios pose specific challenges when it comes to the right fall protection equipment. Thus, each harness is engineered differently, with a series of components such as types of webbing, side, rear and frontal D-rings and lanyard rings.
Durability and comfort are very important when choosing a harness, but also making sure it fits well and that shoulder, waist and legs straps can be adjusted.
When it comes to the connection component – a lanyard or fall arrestor – you need to take into account the fall clearance distance and the work application. Around sharp edges, the lanyard should be exceptionally strong, durable and flexible. Workers grinding or welding at heights needs to use fire retardant lanyards, for instance.
But above all, personal fall protective equipment should be worn consistently, especially when workers are moving from one work area to another.