Appropriate types of fall protection are required whenever personnel have to work at elevated locations. It is important for workers to know how fall protection can be achieved and how to select, use, and care for a personnel fall arrest system.
This article about Fall Protection is a reference tool that you can use to reinforce your understanding of basic types of fall protection and fall protection equipment.
Fall Protection is divided into three parts:
- Fall Protection Equipment
- Selection, Use & Care
“Introduction” describes when fall protection is needed, introduces the means by which fall protection can be achieved, and identiﬁ es the topics that must be covered to provide workers with adequate fall protection training.
“Fall Protection Equipment” describes in detail the basic parts of a typical fall arrest system.
“Selection, Use, and Care” describes how to properly select, inspect, use and care for a personal fall arrest system.
Safety Fall Protection
This part describes working conditions in which fall protection is required and the purposes served by fall protection. Also covered are the basic means by which fall protection can be achieved, the major topics that must be covered to provide personnel with adequate fall protection training and the difference between fall prevention and fall arrest.
When Fall Protection is Required
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that workers be protected from falling from a height of six feet or more. Workers may also be required to use fall protection when they are working near a large opening in a ﬂ oor, near a deep hole, or over protruding re-bar.
Fall Protection Methods
Fall protection may be achieved either by using a fall protection system or by using other acceptable means, such as guard rails or a safety net system.
OSHA also requires that workers be trained to recognize fall hazards and take appropriate safety precautions to minimize the hazards and protect themselves. Training must include:
- The nature of the fall hazards in the work area
- The correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling and inspecting the fall protection systems to be used
- The use and operation of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, warning line systems, safety monitoring systems, controlled access zones, and other protection to be used
- The role of each employee in the safety monitoring system when this system is used
- The limitations on the use of mechanical equipment during the performance of rooﬁ ng work on low-sloped roofs
- The correct procedures for the handling and storage of materials and equipment and the erection of overhead protection
- The role of employees in the fall protection plans
- The standards contained in this subpart
Types Of Fall Protection
Fall protection systems either prevent falls from happening or arrest falls that are in progress.
Common examples of fall prevention systems are guardrails and covers over holes in ﬂoors.
A common means of arresting falls is a personal fall arrest system that attaches to an individual worker and remains passively in place during normal working conditions. At the onset of a fall, however, the system is activated to stop the fall.
A considerable amount of force is required to stop a falling body. Also, the longer the fall, the greater the arresting force that is required. So, free fall distance should be kept to a minimum.
Free Fall Distance
Basically, the term “free fall distance” refers to the distance that a body falls before a personal fall arrest system begins to apply force to stop the fall. The free fall distance must not exceed six feet or allow contact with a lower level.
Fall Arrest System Specifications
All parts of a fall arrest system must meet speciﬁcations to ensure that they can withstand the forces involved in fall arrest. However, the rated strength of a piece of equipment may refer only to the amount of force that the equipment can withstand when the force is applied from a speciﬁc direction. Systems can fail if the same amount of force is applied in a different direction.
Fall Protection Equipment
This part identiﬁes and describes the basic parts of a typical fall arrest system.
Personal Fall Arrest System
The basic parts of a typical personal fall arrest system are the anchorage, a body harness, and connectors that join the harness to the anchorage. Usually, the system also includes a lanyard, lifeline, or other devices that help reduce the impact of the forces applied to arrest a fall.
An anchorage must be able to withstand the forces of arresting a fall. At minimum, it must be capable of supporting 5,000 pounds of “dead weight” for each person who is attached to it.
Generally, an anchorage is an essential part of the structure at a work site that is independent of any supports or platforms on which other personnel are supported. A beam, a girder, and a column are examples of such structures.
Hoists or guardrails must not be used as anchorages, because these devices are not strong enough to withstand the forces involved in arresting a fall. To help deal with the great amount of force that a body is exposed to during fall arrest, a full body harness is required.
Full Body Harness
The harness has straps that distribute arresting forces over the upper thighs, pelvis, chest, and shoulders. This reduces the risk of causing back, internal, or other injuries during a fall arrest.
The harness also safely supports the body in a relatively upright position while the victim awaits rescue.
Usually, the body harness is connected to the anchorage with a lanyard. A lanyard is a ﬂ exible line of rope, wire rope, or webbing with connectors at each end.
Some lanyards are self-retracting. A self-retracting lanyard consists of a line that is wound onto a drum and drawn in and out as a person moves. This keeps the line out of the way while the person is working. At the onset of a fall, the drum automatically locks to arrest the fall.
One connector attaches to the body harness through an attachment element, typically a “D” ring, that is in the center of the harness on the worker’s back, near shoulder level. The connector at the other end of the lanyard is attached to the anchorage. Connectors are simply devices for joining different parts of the personal fall arrest system together. Several types of connectors may be included in a personal fall arrest system.
Some connectors are integral parts of the system. One example is the “D” ring on a body harness.
Another example is the snaphook on a lanyard.
In any case, a connector must have a double-action lock. This means that at least two separate, consecutive actions must be performed in order to open it. For example, to open a locking snaphook, it is usually necessary to ﬁrst release a positive locking mechanism, and then open a spring-loaded keeper.
Generally, a personal fall arrest system includes some type of deceleration device, such as an energy-absorbing lanyard.
Stitching in the lanyard is designed to rip under the forces of fall arrest. This reduces the impact on the body and helps stop a fall more safely and comfortably.
Other connectors are independent parts of the system. A common example is a carabiner.
Often, a personal fall arrest system will include an anchorage connector, which is simply a connector, such as an eyebolt, that is installed at an anchorage.
The anchorage connector enables other parts of the fall arrest system to be connected and disconnected at the anchorage more easily.
In some situations, if workers need a relatively high degree of mobility, as well as fall protection, lanyards may be connected to lifelines.
A lifeline is a ﬂexible line that may be connected to an anchorage at one end, so that the line hangs vertically. A lifeline may also be connected to anchorages at both ends, so that the line runs horizontally.
A vertical lifeline gives a worker vertical mobility while providing fall arrest protection. However, only one person may be attached, or “tied-off,” to the lifeline. Multiple tie-offs are not allowed on vertical lifelines.
A vertical lifeline often has a deceleration device called a “rope grab” that can travel freely on the lifeline during normal conditions. But at the onset of a fall, the resulting friction causes the rope grab to automatically lock in on the line and arrest the fall.
A horizontal lifeline provides fall arrest while increasing a worker’s mobility along a horizontal plane. Horizontal lifelines may have multiple tie-offs, with more than one person attached to the lifeline.
Extreme care is required if multiple tie-offs are used. If one person falls, the resulting movement could cause others to fall, as well.
In any case, horizontal lifelines must be designed, installed, and used, under the supervision of a qualiﬁed person, as part of a complete personal fall arrest system, which maintains a safety factor of at least two.
Selection, Use, And Care
This part describes the proper selection, use, and care of a personal fall arrest system.
Regardless of the speciﬁc features, all personal fall arrest systems must be selected with care.
Most personal fall arrest systems are designed, tested, and supplied as complete systems –with all the parts matched for a speciﬁc purpose. Consequently, parts from different systems should not be combined, because all of the parts may not be compatible.
Site–Related Selection Factors
Fall arrest equipment must be suitable for the conditions at a speciﬁc work site. Some of the site-related factors that could affect equipment selection include the degree of mobility required for workers to do their jobs; the presence of acids, dirt, moisture, oil, or grease; extremely hot or cold temperatures in the work environment; the existence of electrical hazards; and the performance of work –such as welding, chemical cleaning, or sandblasting–-that could damage lanyards, connectors, or lifelines.
It is important for all parts of a personal fall arrest system to be carefully inspected. The equipment must be inspected by a competent person, other than the user, on a regular basis. In addition, all users must inspect their personal fall arrest systems before and after each use.
During an inspection, it is important to read the information that is usually stamped on or attached to the harness and lanyard assembly. This information includes the manufacturer’s name, the equipment’s capacity, the equipment’s speciﬁcations, the speciﬁc safety standards that the equipment meets, and the date of manufacture.
Signs Of Damage
It is also important to examine the equipment for any signiﬁcant damage or deterioration. Cuts, burns, frayed straps, and distorted hooks are all defects that should be checked for.
All of the parts of the equipment should be checked to make sure that they are in good working order. Damaged or non-functioning parts should be removed from service and tagged or marked to show that they are not usable.
Finally, company procedures should be followed to record the date of the inspection.
Equipment that has been used to stop a fall is likely to have been signiﬁcantly weakened or damaged in the process, and it may no longer be able to provide adequate fall protection.
OSHA requires that personal fall arrest systems and components subjected to impact loading shall be immediately removed from service and shall not be used again for employee protection until inspected and determined by a competent person to be undamaged and suitable for reuse.” However, best work practices are to dispose of or otherwise take out of service any portion of a fall arrest system that has been subject to a fall.
Using Personal Fall Arrest Systems
Personal fall arrest systems can be arranged in many different ways, and workers should learn the speciﬁc procedures for the safe and correct use of the systems at their job sites. However, there are some general guidelines that apply to most systems.
- Use the systems whenever they are needed to ensure your safety on the job.
- Use only equipment that is suitable for the situation and that meets personal fall arrest system speciﬁcations.
- Carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe and proper use of all equipment.
- Be sure to adjust the ﬁt of the body harness correctly. Improper adjustment could cause injury or death if a fall occurs.
- Inspect the anchorage to be sure that it is strong enough before you use it.
- Only use connectors that are in good condition and have double-action locks.
- Make sure that the connectors lock securely when they are connected to a lifeline or a lanyard.
- Follow proper procedures for joining parts of the system together with connectors.
- Don’t hook a snaphook directly to a horizontal lifeline.
- Don’t connect two or more snaphooks to each other.
- Don’t connect a snaphook back onto its own lanyard.
- Don’t connect two or more snaphooks to one “D” ring.
- Don’t connect a snaphook to a webbing loop or a webbing lanyard.
- Be careful to follow proper tie-off procedures for the site where you’re working.
- When you use a rope lanyard or lifeline, avoid knots or kinks, which reduce the strength of the line.
- Avoid running a rope lanyard or lifeline over a rough surface, a beam, or sharp edges. The resulting abrasive action can severely reduce the strength of the line.
- Keep the lanyard as short as possible. This limits free fall distance, minimizes stopping force, and helps prevent injuries during fall arrest.
Rescuing Fall Victims
Another important concern is rescuing victims after they have fallen. Provisions must be made so that workers can be promptly rescued or can rescue themselves if a fall occurs.
After a personal fall arrest system is used, it is important to carefully inspect all of the parts and make sure that they are clean and dry. The equipment should then be stored properly, according to company procedures.
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