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Fall Protection and Rescue Plans - The Importance of Proactively Protecting Your Workers

Published: 10th Nov 2010

What with the introduction of the code of safety standards from the Dubai Municipality last year, the creation of the construction sector’s own health and safety initiative, Build Safe UAE, and a range of other initiatives to promote best practice, health and safety are now moving to the top of the agenda across the region.

Increasingly, small as well as major contractors are embracing health and safety procedures on job sites and as a result, the number of fatalities has reduced significantly on UAE construction sites.

However, health and safety policy is only effective if it is enforced throughout the company. Here are some ways in which safety and rescue procedures can be planned into a build-project from the start, not only preventing unnecessary injuries, but providing monetary savings as well.

It is in the interest of any developer to instil strict health and safety procedures onsite to not only minimise injury, but maximise efficiency. With increasing numbers of developers ensuring that their workforce undergoes extensive training and awareness programmes, as well as incentive programmes to promote ‘personal responsibility’ onsite (reporting potential problems as they arise) health and safety is increasingly moving from the boardroom to the jobsite.

One Dubai-based developer with an excellent track record for health and safety onsite recently said: “Efficient safety operations not only reduce the risk of personal injury, but also keep project timelines on track, saving time and money during construction.”

Being prepared

Active fall protection gear such as a harness, connector and anchorage can eliminate the chance of serious injury when workers learn how to properly wear the gear according to its specifications, use it properly and conduct regular inspection and maintenance procedures. A passive fall protection system - such as guardrails, permanent netting and barriers - can help eliminate injuries by keeping the worker from coming into contact with the fall hazard. Without a fall protection plan, you may not know a fall hazard exists, let alone whether an active or passive system is appropriate to control the fall hazard.

Monetary savings

When a plan is in place, cost savings come in several forms. A plan saves money because you are prepared. You know what fall protection equipment and skills will be needed at each fall hazard on the jobsite. This enables you to make considered equipment decisions for a job well in advance, rather than quickly buying products a few days before the job begins. In some situations, you may not be able to purchase the desired equipment in time, which can delay the work or put your workers in danger.

Training costs can be reduced by having planned sequential training sessions that give your workers time on the ground to fully understand the proper use of the fall protection equipment and rescue systems that will be used at the site. Planned sessions better prepare your workers rather than quick unplanned briefs right before a job begins, which are not as complete and can delay construction. Quality training will help prevent falls from occurring and ensure workers are better prepared if a fall were to happen.

The amount of money a company can save on insurance costs, injury compensation claims and increased productivity with a fall protection and rescue plan in place is invaluable. Fewer injuries lead to fewer workers compensation claims, which will lower insurance costs immensely. Reduction in lost time from worker falls and injuries also allows a company to be more productive and keep on-site work progressing to schedule.

Advantages of being proactive

A fall protection and rescue plan stands as evidence that your company is doing everything it can to prevent injuries, which is something both employees and regulatory bodies will recognise. It shows your employees that you genuinely care about their safety, that you’re ensuring their safe return home at the end of each day.

Providing a high-quality fall protection and rescue plan can help form positive attitudes about using fall protection equipment, encouraging workers to spend more time making sure they are wearing and using the equipment properly.

A company’s reputation is its strongest asset. Citations and injuries aren’t good for business development or employee recruitment. When your company is diligent in following fall protection standards, injuries will decrease. Should an incident occur, however, a more favourable attitude from regulators could result based on your consistent efforts to comply with regulations and prevent falls.

A fall protection programme

A fall protection programme not only reduces worker risk, it demonstrates that the company is making an effort to comply with regulations, which can prevent potential economic losses resulting from a fall, including fines, liability and increased insurance costs. The following shows the six key steps to consider when developing and implementing a comprehensive fall protection programme.

Step 1: Develop a policy and define the scope of the programme

Managers in charge of developing a fall protection programme for a company must develop a policy that is in line with existing company safety policies.

The scope defines who the policy applies to, types of activities the policy applies to, locations where the policy is in force, date the policy entered into force, duties and responsibilities of those involved in the fall protection programme and delegation of those duties and responsibilities. Ongoing responsibilities include: inspection, record keeping, maintenance, equipment replacement, incident reporting, enforcement, accident investigation, training and changes to the plan.

Step 2: Identify fall hazards through  a hazard analysis

A hazard analysis, or fall hazard survey, is a key step in the development of a fall protection programme. It identifies each fall hazard that exists at the facility and any other locations the policy covers. Along with the location of each fall hazard, the analysis should include the type of hazard, a sketch of the hazard, how often workers are exposed to the hazard, duration of exposure, height of a potential fall, control method (see step 3 below), fall protection and rescue equipment to be used at the site of the hazard (if applicable), and environmental conditions that could affect selection of appropriate fall protection equipment. Environmental conditions might include presence of chemicals, sparks or flames, sharp or abrasive objects/surfaces, moving objects, and unstable/uneven/slippery surfaces, among others.

Step 3: Determine appropriate methods of control

The fall protection hierarchy details the preferred methods of controlling a fall hazard. The ultimate control method is to engineer out the hazard, which is usually only an option during the design stage of a new facility. The next best control is to change work procedures so that workers are not exposed to the hazard. If an area must be accessed, the best control is to install passive fall protection systems such as guardrails, handrails and covers for floor openings. If passive fall protection is not a possibility, fall restraint systems that prevent the worker’s centre of gravity from reaching the fall hazard should be used. Extra diligence must be exercised with restraint systems because they do not double as fall arrest systems; a restraint lanyard will not reduce the forces of a fall. If none of the above methods will suffice, a fall arrest system, which is designed to reduce the forces of a fall, should be used. Whenever a fall arrest system is in place, a rescue plan must also be in place. The potential for injuries necessitates timely rescue. The injury may have been the cause of the fall, or an injury may have occurred during the progress of the fall. Furthermore, a worker hanging in a harness may suffer from suspension trauma, a condition in which lack of motion and constricted veins may cause blood to pool. Suspension trauma does not always result in long-term injuries, but the possibility demands a prompt response. The most important elements of the rescue plan are identification of the rescuer; that is, who will perform the rescue (in-house personnel, emergency services or a combination of the two), and what type of rescue system or equipment will be used at each fall hazard. Rescue should be as simple and as safe as possible.

Step 4: Conduct education and training sessions to ensure effective employee understanding of fall hazards and control methods

Classroom education for authorised persons - workers who will be exposed to fall hazards on a regular basis - should begin with coursework that teaches the trainee how to recognise fall hazards, how to eliminate or control fall hazards, relevant applicable regulations and the worker’s responsibilities under those standards, and how to use written fall protection procedures. A more hands-on portion of training should include how to select, inspect, use, store and maintain fall protection equipment.

Training should occur whenever a new employee is brought on board, and periodic assessments of employees’ knowledge and skills - including written assessments and skills demonstrations - should be conducted at least annually. Standards require refresher training every two years at a minimum, sooner if the work place changes, new systems/equipment are issued, or the worker doesn’t display adequate knowledge.

Step 5: Perform inspection and maintenance of fall protection equipment

Equipment should be inspected prior to and following each use. When inspecting equipment, ensure all required markings and labels are present and legible, make sure all elements affecting equipment form, fit and function are present, and look for evidence of defects in or damage to hardware, straps, rope or cable, mechanical devices and connectors, including evidence that the equipment has been subjected to a fall event.

Equipment must pass a more rigorous inspection according to the timeline set by the manufacturer. A supervisor or safety manager (programme administrator, qualified or competent person) should inspect each piece of equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions and record the date of inspection and condition of each piece of equipment. Certain items, such as self retracting lifelines, must be sent to an authorised repair facility for servicing and recertification.

Step 6: Administer and audit the programme for compliance and continuous improvement

Should a fall or near miss occur, the manager or supervisor should conduct an incident investigation, the results of which should be recorded and kept on file. Investigations will help determine if the fall protection programme has established the appropriate control method for a given hazard, if the training is adequate, and what improvements are needed to ensure such an incident doesn’t occur again.

The fall protection programme must be updated every time an investigation results in a recommendation for improvement, and whenever a new fall hazard is identified or an existing hazard is modified. A copy of the fall protection programme should be kept wherever an active fall protection system is in use.

In conclusion, keeping your fall protection and rescue plan up to date, active and rehearsed, so workers can respond in a timely manner in the event of a fall, is priceless. It is much better to plan ahead from a thorough perspective than to plan in haste. Be prepared from the ground up and do everything that you can to ensure the safety of your employees.

Safety at high temperature

Even though the summer is over, workers across the Middle East are still facing some hot working conditions. Here are some tips for ensuring your workers are as comfortable as possible, no matter how hot it gets:

• Harnesses are available that are made with materials designed to wick away moisture from the body, much like the fibre used in several lines of athletic apparel. Removable padding lined with 3-D mesh also can help the harness feel more breathable and provide comfort should a male worker decide to don the harness without a shirt underneath. However, wearing a harness without a shirt is not recommended - not only because of sun exposure, but also because fall arrest can be more painful if the harness is in direct contact with the skin.

• Sweat has not demonstrated negative long-term effects on harnesses; however, a harness should be washed periodically. Following any exposure to moisture, the harness should be hung and dried properly to avoid mildew growth, which can affect the durability of a harness. Likewise, long-term sun exposure can cause webbing on a harness to deteriorate. If the harness shows signs of significant fading or mildew, it should be removed from service.

•When workers become hot, it is not just discomfort that can cause a work slowdown. Excessive heat can lead to disorders such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Dehydration often is a cause of these conditions. The challenge that workers at height face is that they are often separated from a water source, and it is not always convenient or feasible to carry fluids on a jobsite. Harness accessories such as clip-on water carriers are one solution to this problem.

These accessories keep the water source close but out of the way and hands-free. Essentially, a pack with a built-in fluid container is strapped on to the back of the harness, just below the D-ring. A drinking tube is connected to the container and clipped to the front of the harness. The important thing to keep in mind with these and other accessories is that they should not block the harness’s safety components, and they should easily snap free in an emergency. ?

Author

Daniel Vernuccio, Managing Director, Capital Safety Group EMEA Capital Safety, the world’s leading designer and manufacturer of height safety and fall protection equipment with nine operating sites worldwide, is home of the DBI-SALA and PROTECTA brands. All of Capital Safety’s fall protection and rescue systems are backed by the best training, technical assistance and customer service in the industry. Your contact at Capital Safety Group is Christophe Chausse. T: (+33) 6 19 49 38 67 E: oilandgas@capitalsafety.com For more information visit www.capitalsafety.com www.osedirectory.com/health-and-safety.php

Published: 10th Nov 2010 in Health and Safety Middle East

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