ABCDs of Fall Safety for Construction Workers
By Rick Pedley, Contributor
Trips and falls are one of the most common workplace injuries and can happen on all kinds of job sites, which is why OSHA requires that fall protection is provided to construction workers who are working six feet above the ground.
Even the most careful construction workers aren’t immune to accidents. While exercising caution is a fundamental worksite requirement, fall safety PPE is equally vital. Fall protection equipment is about more than tying off a harness to a solid object and considering the job done.
The ABCDs of Fall Safety provide an easy way to remember the four biggest components of fall protection PPE and best practices: anchorage, body harnesses, connectors and lifelines, and descent and rescue systems.
A secure tie-off point is necessary to avoid or stop a fall, which is where anchors and carabiners come in. Typically made of high-quality metals like steel, anchors are usually attached directly to the structure being worked on to secure a worker in the event of a fall. Anchors come in many different shapes, sizes, and types ranging from small clips to wall anchors, sliding beams, swivel hooks, and more. Research the types designed for and required by your industry to ensure you and your team have adequate protection.
Carabiners and anchors have a limited lifespan, after which point they should be properly disposed of and replaced. Everyone should inspect their anchors before working to ensure they’re in proper condition. Additionally, a ‘competent person’ should review regularly to make sure all elements are in good working order, which involves checking for signs of rust, loose connections, or indications that they are unfit for the job.
Security while working at heights requires a full-body harness. Relying solely on an anchor and a tie-off around the waist isn’t enough for construction jobs. Waist belts are intended for work positioning only and are prohibited as a fall protection measure. A full-body harness evenly distributes the forces generated from the fall across the body, which prevents more severe injuries or death.
Full-body harnesses should wrap around the shoulders, chest, and inner thighs to ensure adequate coverage. The fit shouldn’t be too tight or loose, and the secure straps and buckles should fit comfortably around the body. Harnesses should also have a way to securely attach or clip tools so they can be readily accessed at heights without the risk of them falling onto levels below.
Connectors and Lifelines
Connectors and lifelines connect the body harness and anchor, which makes a complete fall protection system. Lanyards and self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) are the most common forms of protection in construction work. Styles vary by job requirements, with the design usually based on required movement speed. What sets connectors and lifelines apart from a regular length of rope are built-in shock absorbers that absorb the impact of the forces and bring the worker to a more gradual stop with controlled braking.
Descent and Rescue Systems
After a fall, a worker needs to descend safely, which isn’t easy when dangling a few feet to multiple stories from the ground. It’s critical to recognize that a fallen worker can’t remain suspended indefinitely, as suspension trauma can occur within as few as 30 minutes. This is where descent and rescue systems come into play. The ideal descent and rescue system should either be incorporated directly into the harness’ design or be fast and easy to implement in the field.
The ABCDs of Fall Safety are an easy way to remember the basics of fall protection and safety on the construction site to protect both yourself and your team.
Rick Pedley is President and CEO, PK Safety (pksafety.com).
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