More and more workers today are well informed of the hazards while working at heights. However, we still find that mistakes are made and lives are changed in an instant.
When we look at the basics, a fall protection system consists of four critical components.
- anchorage point
- body support
Anchorage points are the foundation of the FPS. They are designed to restrain or prevent the worker from falling. APs can be anything from standard eye bolts to slings, anchor points, and designed and engineered lifeline systems which can be horizontal, vertical, permanent or temporary.
Most of the time, we assume the sites we visit or work on would have sufficient anchorage points, but all too often that is not the case. However, we do see that permanent structures like buildings are designed with the correct AP to assist in future access.
When designing an AP, we also need to understand the application from a user’s point of view because if it is not user friendly and the system just ticks the regulation box, we find the system is not used.
Connections consist of lanyards, shock absorbing lanyards, and fall arrestors/retractable lifelines, and each one has a specific purpose designed specifically for your application.
We find that most people today have a harness with double lanyard shock absorber to do all jobs. Little do the users know that the item that is supposed to save them could harm them. A key factor to take into consideration when selecting your connection is your fall clearance – the distance from the anchor point to the ground or first obstacle that could harm you.
Most of us think using a two-metre lanyard with shock absorber can be used at all heights, but you actually require a clearance near to seven metres. My personal preference is to use a retractable lanyard as this will engage immediately and the user would have less risk of falling from an edge.
Body support is just as important as all the other components. There are so many types of harnesses on the market today, it is difficult to choose. Unfortunately, most of the time it is a budget that dictates the harness we use. Even though the not so comfortable harnesses comply to the regulation, it is extremely important to have a harness that fits perfectly. The standard harness with no extra bells and whistles just have a D-ring at the back but it can be preferable to have an extra sternal D-ring in the front. This will assist the wearer and the rescuer in a case of emergency.
The harness needs to be easy adjustable as this will allow the user to adjust the harness according to their body size. A simple and common mistake is that the rear support on the harness (which is supposed to support the buttocks) is positioned too high. When the harness is worn in this way, in the case of a fall, all the pressure is exerted on the legs and there is even less time to rescue the victim.
Rescue/evacuation is one of the factors that is forgotten the most. If someone falls, how do we get to them down?
Choosing a rescue system needs to be simple enough that anyone can use with minimal training. Fortunately, today there are many systems that can assist us. Not only is it important to have a rescue team, but workers themselves should be trained. This will allow the workers to know what to do when being rescued.
Make sure you have a complete fall protection system in place. If you skip one step, you risk someone not going home to their family.