Written by Daniel Aday, CompOne Administrators Safety & Loss Prevention Specialist
Last year, Michigan experienced 11 fatalities that resulted from falling. Eight of these were from elevation. Working from heights is dangerous at all levels, but simple and effective solutions can mitigate risk and reduce injuries if implemented correctly. The heights of the last year’s worker’s falls range from 6 feet up to 30 feet, and involved everything from working off of ladders, to working on unfinished balconies. While the greater the falling distance increases the likelihood of severe injury, it does not mean that short falls (10 feet or less) should be ignored. In order to stay within compliance, you must protect workers while working at heights of 4 feet or great for General Industry, and heights of 6 feet or greater for Construction. Here are the types of fall protection and prevention that you must consider while working at elevated surfaces.
Guardrails can both be temporary or permanent construction as long as they meet the requirements listed in OSHA Fall Protection Systems Criteria and Practices 1926.502(b), which include a 42” top rail (+/- 3”) with an equal spaced mid-rail, and the ability to support 200 pounds in a downward direction. Guardrails are ideal for maximizing the working space, offer significant prevention of falls, and give workers confidence when working above tanks and other hazardous material (compared to fall protection systems).
Safety Net Systems
Safety nets are, by design, to be a last line of protection. The idea of a safety net is to “catch” any item or person who falls over an edge, and prevents them from landing/hitting a lower level. They shall be installed as close as possible and extend at least 8 feet to 13 feet past the outer working surface, depending on the distance away from the working surface. Safety nets must be tested if feasible upon each installation to ensure integrity and strength. Not all buildings will support or allow such a structure built, as to why you do not frequently see these.
Personal Fall Protection Systems
Personal fall protection, such as body harnesses, horizontal lifelines, lanyards, self-retracting lifelines, shock absorbing lanyards, and adequate anchor systems are amongst the most common types of preventing serious injury from falls. While they do not always prevent falls, the idea is to either greatly limit the length of a fall, or absorb a fall almost completely to allow the individual to get assistance back to safety. Injury can still occur when using fall protection, especially if used incorrectly. Full body harnesses (not body belts) must fit each individual properly and all fall protection equipment must undergo competent inspections prior to use.
Ladder Safety Systems
A ladder safety system is an affixed construction to a ladder that allows the employee who is climbing, to do so with both hands without having to continuously hold, push or pull on any part of the system while climbing. They are required on ladder systems over 24 feet. Their main purpose is to provide a vertical life line that “catches” the fall if someone missteps or falls from a ladder while ascending or descending.
Warning Line Systems
Warning line systems seem to be growing in popularity with ease of installation and ensuring compliance. These are great measures that show a 6 foot buffer zone around the side of roof or other leading edge that is unguarded. These warning systems are great for those who need to do routine or lengthy work on such an area. As long as the warning line can withstand 16 pounds of force applied horizontally without tipping over, and the rope, wire, or chain that it is constructed out of can support 500 pounds after being to stanchions on either end, without breaking or taking up slack.
Regardless of what system you end up going with, there should always be a competent person who provides training on the proper usage and maintenance of equipment and indicating the hazards and concerns of all elevated work. This training should be held prior to the employee starting the task. Not all elevated work is dangerous when performed within compliance and statistics show that workers get jobs done quicker and better when they are confident in their own safety.
For more information, visit OSHA.gov, your local safety agency, or email me at daday@CompOne.net.