It can happen in a second. One misstep, one slight slip and a person can fall far enough to be seriously or fatally injured. Of course, no one on a job site ever thinks it can happen to them. It is always ‘the other guy’ that gets careless, the ‘other guy’ who makes mistakes.
The fact is falls are the leading cause of worker fatalities within the U.S. construction industry. Falls at construction sites cause more than 100,000 injuries and 200 fatalities each year. That is an awful lot of ‘other guys.’ The reality is that falls can happen to anyone working on a job site whether it is in manufacturing, construction, shipyard, petrochemical, longshoring or any other industry where elevated work is required.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that employers must provide adequate fall protection for employees. Each industry category has its own minimum elevations at which fall protection is required. For example, general industry sites must provide fall protection for employees at any elevations four feet and above. Four feet does not seem like much, but a fall from a four-foot loading dock can easily lead to broken bones, or worse.
From an employer’s point of view, each fall incident can result in significant insurance payouts as well as lost productivity from a skilled employee. Therefore, prudent employers ensure that they have the appropriate fall protection equipment and employee training before the job even begins. This means locating a knowledgeable fall protection company that can assess each work site’s overall fall protection needs and develop an effective plan to protect the company and its employees. This plan would include identifying the correct fall protection equipment required and implementing this industry-specific equipment and appropriate fall arrest training.
Fall protection equipment includes everything from properly designed and constructed fall restraint devices like guard rails, maintenance platforms and sophisticated body holding equipment. In many cases, a fall protection plan will include several devices that work together to ensure that falls are prevented or, should the situation arise, that a fall is safely arrested. One example of this is a roof anchor system that includes a connecting device such as a chain or lanyard attached by snap hooks from the roof to the worker who is wearing a web harness. Should a worker fall off a surface, this integrated equipment system will arrest the fall.
The first objective is to prevent a fall. Called fall restraint devices, these structures include guard rails, hand rails and stair rails. Their primary purpose is to prevent a worker from losing contact with a surface on which the worker is standing. Fall restraint devices are also designed to safely elevate the worker to the maintenance/work area. Aircraft maintenance platforms and independent stands are prime examples of this type of fall prevention.
Fall arrest devices and systems prevent or stop a fall once it is in process. These systems can be quite complex with every snap hook, roof anchor, energy absorber and piece of body webbing sufficiently tested to safely arrest the momentum of a fall without hurting the person who is falling. Fall arrest systems include an anchoring device, a connecting device such as a chain, cable or lanyard, energy absorption components and body holding devices. The body holding devices can be a relatively simple waist belt or a technically advanced full body harness.
Whether the equipment is a fall restraint device or a fall restraint system, it is absolutely critical that it is well-constructed and has been tested and approved by the appropriate local, state and federal regulating agencies.