Whether your project has you at heights for the majority of the day or only once in a while, your focus on safety during these occurrences is of the upmost importance. It only takes one mistake to have a routine job result in major injury, or even a fatality. Therefore, you must be prepared at all times to protect those who work for you every time they are exposed to heights. Here are some things to consider as you and your employees tackle work at elevated levels.
Whenever you can, utilize rails. Passive protection is the best way to ensure that your workers are safe. This also achieves compliance, since there is nothing they need to do to keep themselves safe besides staying within the railing provided. Rails can be constructed by carpenters on the jobsite; however, be sure that they meet the requirements set forth by OSHA. The rails can also be pre-fabricated from a manufacturer and installed for you. Pre-fabricated railings can be permanently installed, or they can be designed as portable systems to suit your needs. Regardless of which type you decide to utilize, once the rails are in place you will find they are the easiest fall protection system to use.
2. Select the Proper PPE
If you’re going to use Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS), you need to check that you are choosing the proper equipment for the job. All full-body harnesses that meet ANSI standards will perform the same, despite their cost. However, the price difference can translate into differences in function. Many times the price variations are due to brand names, but in other circumstances, it is functionality that you may be gaining or sacrificing.
These variations can include extra D-rings, fireproof material, or arc-safe designs. In some cases the more expensive harness will be higher in cost simply because it was designed to be more comfortable. Make sure to do extensive research while decide what it is you need. If you have workers who need to weld at heights, a standard nylon harness is probably not going to match your needs (Kevlar may be the more effective option).
At all times, keep your workforce in mind. While comfort may not be your main concern, it’s not the only thing you need to consider. It is also important to remember that harnesses are not one-size-fits-all. Make sure your workers can properly adjust their harnesses so that they fit correctly.
Lanyards are another item that needs to be properly selected. Each situation is different; you need to evaluate your working conditions, along with the task to be performed, in order to give your employees something that will adequately protect them.
3. PPE Inspections
If not inspected on a regular basis, equipment could fail at any time. When it comes to harnesses and lanyards, they need to be periodically inspected by a competent person, someone who has substantial knowledge of the device, and who can recognize the hazards. This person should also have the authority to correct it. Besides this, however, they should also be inspected by the user prior to every use. In order for this to happen, your employees need to understand what it is they are looking for, what is acceptable, and what to do if and when they find an issue. The inspection should be thorough, however this does not mean it needs to take a substantial amount of time. Even so, this brief, pre-work check could save the life of your employee.
4.Make sure Everyone Understands Fall Distance and Anchor Points
All fall protection gear is rendered useless if it does not engage before you or your employee hits the lower level. The actual fall distance needs to not only include the length of your lanyard when it is deployed, but it should also factor your body length below the D-ring, along with any sag in your harness and anchor system. You should count on a good 18.5’ minimum before you’re able to use a 6’ lanyard with a deceleration device. Also, an anchor point must support not only the weight of the person attached to it, but also 5000 lbs. per person. Many fixtures are not going to withstand those forces, so it is imperative that you get the approval of an engineer before establishing anchor points.
5. Ensure the Best Means for Working at Elevated Levels
Just as one harness cannot serve as a one-size-fits-all safety mechanism, neither are fall protection solutions. In some situations, a scaffold may be the best solution to working at elevated levels. It is recommended that you equip them with rails, making your fall protection much easier. Other times, scaffolds are not a feasible option; in cases such as this, you may find yourself on a lift.
Depending on the lift type, your workers may or may not need to wear a harness and a lanyard. On other occasions, you will need to utilize a ladder, at which point the requirements for fall protection become harder to figure out. In any case, analyze all risks, and try to compensate for them with effective safety precautions.
This last point cannot be stressed enough. If you want your employees to work safely at heights, they must be properly trained. Not only is training required by law, but not having training can lead to a lot of confusion, which increases the risk of falls significantly. Falls are the leading killer on construction jobs. Make sure that your employees are armed with the knowledge they need to keep themselves safe.
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