It has been said that the best solution for fall protection is to not fall, but as falls account for several deaths on construction sites, it turns out this plan doesn’t work out and will make OSHA very grumpy. This topic may be stale news to the salty veterans who have been around the block a time or two but I would be willing to bet that there are very few who consider all aspects of a fall protection every time they don their harness.
Whether you are the engineer designing the plan or the contractor whose life relies on the plan, there are several aspects of fall protection that need to be considered. The most familiar components of fall protection are the personal fall arrest system and the anchor which the system is attached to. Most anyone who has needed to utilize fall protection in their line of work knows that OSHA requires you to use a personal fall arrest system and be connected to a suitable anchor which is capable of supporting 5,000 pounds or be designed by a qualified person. In addition a fall protection user must consider the anchor location in relation to the work area, the fall distance and a rescue plan which are just as important and easier to overlook.
After determining the personal fall arrest system and a suitable anchor, next, consider the work area in relation to the fall protection anchor: It is always a good practice to keep the fall protection system as close to 90 degrees to the edge of the fall hazard as possible. This will limit the amount of swing in the event of a fall reducing the risk of the worker swinging into an object below.
Next, consider the fall distance to prevent a worker from hitting a lower level or an obstruction below as they fall. This aspect of fall protection has the highest variability and can change with each setup. The fall distance can be as little as a few feet if using a self-retracting lifeline attached to a rigid anchor to upwards of 20 feet with some horizontal lifeline applications.
Finally, any fall protection plan is pointless without a way to rescue the poor soul hanging from the system. The fact of the matter is that the fall is not the only way to cause injury and/or death. The sustained mobility of being suspended and the potential for the harness to restrict blood flow can cause serious issues if the worker is not rescued within a reasonable amount of time.
A well designed and implemented fall protection plan must consider all of these aspects. Fall protection may or may not be your bread and butter, however when you need it, considering only some of the aspects could turn into a very bad day. All good ideas start with a plan but without the follow through you’re just a guy hanging there hoping on a dream.