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Published: 10th May 2011

Everybody knows that it is dangerous to work high above the ground. But if you do this on a daily basis, you will get used to the height.

That said, there are more accidents involving people falling from a height of 3 to 5 metres than from a height of 20 to 50 metres. As with every job, the risk lies in the routine. Risks when working at height are one of the most underestimated occupational dangers.

Work related accidents

Falls injure thousands of people who work at height every year, and injuries from falls or falling objects may even result in death. Falls from height still are the biggest cause of workplace deaths.

Deadly falls on the job result from unstable working surfaces, unprotected roof edges, open shafts, scaffolds, misuse of fall protection and more.

Fatal falls alone account for more than 15% of work related fatal accidents.

The reason is strange and yet simple: it has everything to do with our sense of safety. When workers feel safe or not immediately unsafe, they see little or no danger in falling and are less observant.

Risks when working at height

Most accidents occur when falling from height:

• When entering the roof

• During work on the roof

• Due to the lack of safe edge protectionTypes of fall protection

Fall protection ensures personal safety when working at height. When workers maintain or inspect the sides of a building, safety is also important. Working on big boats and on high projects in Industry has to do with safety at height as well.

Fall protection can be used:

• To prevent people from falling (fall restraint)

• To protect people in case of a fall (fall arrest)

Fall protection can be used on a permanent basis, but protection is also often needed on occasional work at height. That is when mobile fall protection products are used.


In most big industrial countries, fall protection is obligatory and arranged by law. Employers need to provide their workers with proper fall protection equipment and train them how to use this in the right way.

The European Commission has prescribed health and safety directives with the goal of reducing 25% of the overall occupational accidents and diseases in the EU.

Also, in the USA and Canada the law requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is the agency that controls the following of the US laws by providing information, training and assistance to workers and employers.

More information about the regulations and OSHA can be found at or its European department EU-OSHA: .

In Europe, the minimum height for which fall protection is needed depends on the country. In the Netherlands, for instance, the minimum is 2.5 metres, while in Belgium this limit is set at 2 metres.

The choice of fall protection equipment depends on the workplace, and has an order of priority:

• Permanent collective protection: guardrails, balustrade, fences, stairs and permanent ladders

• Temporary collective protection: temporary guardrails, scaffolding, removable edge protection, scaffolding and ladders

If this collective protection cannot be used at the workplace, then personal protection is needed. This is also known as:

• Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): this mobile fall protection comprises of products like safety harnesses, lifeline systems and shock absorbers

Collective fall protection

This type of fall protection is always preferred, since it prevents several people from falling at the same time and does not require specific user knowledge.

Guardrail systems

Roof edge protection like guardrail systems turns the entire roof into a safe access area without further need for knowledge or other equipment.

The leading fall protection companies nowadays offer guardrails that can be installed on a permanent as well as on a temporary basis. The type of roof construction has to be taken into account when selecting the proper system. Guardrails can protect an unlimited number of people at the same time.

Horizontal lifeline systems

A horizontal lifeline system is comprised of a series of anchor points that are connected by wire rope. This permanent wire rope track follows the roof contours. The user only has to hook up once and the track marks the safe zone of the roof.

Using a slider (also known as a runner) that slides along the track following the user, this system offers complete freedom of movement while the user is working safely at height.

This system can also be used on high walls or ceilings and can be used by two to five people at the same time.

Instead of forming a complete steel cable track, it is also possible to form a permanent line with a wire rope system in between anchor points. Then the system is installed in the centre of the roof. This is a more cost-effective solution. Its disadvantage is that the user needs to adjust the lifeline length when changing working locations, and this requires more user know-how.

Another method of protection is to hook up directly to a permanently installed anchor point with the lifeline. Though more cost-effective, this system is not as user-friendly.

The safe zone is definitely smaller, more anchor points are required for the same access level as with a steel cable system, and this definitely requires user know-how.

To prevent swinging in the event of a fall, extra anchor points on the corners of the roof are necessary. Per anchor point, one or two persons can be hooked up at the same time.

The most simple solution that offers the minimum required safety in this range is to connect at least two permanent anchor points along the middle of a roof with a temporary mobile lifeline.

The user then hooks up to this mobile lifeline. When moving along the roof surface, the user needs to move the mobile lifeline to the appropriate anchor points. Once the user is hooked up to the mobile lifeline with a correctly adjusted lifeline, safety is ensured. However, care is required when moving between working locations, therefore this solution is only applicable from a certain height, and its use requires in depth knowledge of the user.

Scaffolding systems

The most well known temporary fall prevention system is scaffolding. Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to support people and material in the construction or repair of buildings and other large structures. It is usually a modular system of pipes or tubes.

The material used is mostly metal, although in Asia bamboo as material is still used quite often. Metal is heavy, bamboo is flammable, but recent developments have brought about aluminium scaffolding. These scaffolding systems do not only look better but are lightweight and durable. This makes the aluminium scaffold a safe and transport-friendly system.

Individual fall protection - Personal Protective Equipment

Temporary individual fall protection can be divided into fall arrest and fall restraint systems.

Fall restraint - fall prevention

Protective equipment that helps prevent the user from falling, or reaching a point where a fall can occur, belongs to the category of fall restraint. Using fall restraint equipment, the user can move around to perform his tasks while the equipment prevents him from falling.

The standard parts of a fall restraint system are: an anchorage point, a harness and a positioning lanyard. Essential in the good use of this system is the length of the lanyard, which may never exceed a length of 2 metres.

The right length of lanyard prevents the user from reaching an area where there’s danger of falling. Using the correct length can also offer the needed support for work positioning.

Work positioning

By using a work positioning system the user has sufficient support to have both of his hands available to perform his tasks.

It’s important to note, however, that work positioning never replaces a fall restraint system.

Work positioning equipment helps a worker stay in the same place, but does not help in case of a fall. That’s why this type of equipment can only be used if there is no hazard of falling, or fall arrest equipment is also being used simultaneously.

A hip belt, for instance, can keep a worker in place but does not help him when he falls.

Fall arrest - fall protection

If the work is at a place that does impose a risk of falling, it is necessary to use equipment that will arrest the fall and absorb the forces that are released as the result of a fall. Next to this, it should also help to stabilise the user after he has fallen down.

Even though you may never work at height alone, it may take a while for help to come. Then it is important not to be squashed by your fall arrest system during the time that you are hanging there trying to self-rescue, or waiting to be rescued.

A proper fall arrest system consists of the following items:

• An anchorage point to hook up to with the lifeline

• A fall arrest device like a shock absorber or a self-retractable lanyard, depending on the specific working conditions

A full body harness that is connected with the fall arrest device to the anchorage point

The anchorage point can be mobile, or a permanent point to hook up to can be installed, such as horizontal lifeline systems (anchorage points connected by a wire rope on a roof, ceiling or façade).

Mobile or permanent, the anchorage point definitely needs to be placed on a construction that is guaranteed to withstand the forces that will be released during a fall.

Always take this into account before accessing your workplace at height. Have your fall protection specialist inform you further about these constraints.

A harness provides the wearer with the greatest possible protection, because nearly all the fall arrest forces are absorbed by the sides and the seat, and the wearer is held in an almost upright position after a fall.

Inspection and maintenance

For all types of fall protection it is vital to have the products inspected on a regular basis. This is also directed by law and is essential to make sure that the equipment you are using does actually keep you safe.

Next to the official inspections at frequent intervals, a user should always take his own responsibility seriously.

This means to critically check all equipment that he is about to use and review its reliability.

If a defect is discovered or there is any uncertainty about a product whatsoever, you should always contact your supplier or the manufacturer of the equipment.

After a fall protection system has arrested a fall, all components of the system must be removed from service and sent to the supplier or manufacturer for inspection, with a note stating that the system has arrested an actual fall.

Maintenance at height

In the world of safety at height, maintenance work takes up a special position.

Buildings are getting taller and complex façade constructions are becoming the norm. But skyscrapers and other steel-and-glass ‘calling-cards’ demand special installations for façade maintenance.

Building Maintenance Units are specially designed roof cars for tall buildings that require regular maintenance or inspection work on the façades.

Preparation safe working at height

In general, the following steps are in order of priority before starting work at height:

• Analyse the risks of the workplace

• Assess the dangers of the workplace

• Evaluate whether the risks can be limited

• Determine which (personal) protection is necessary ?


Leading a multinational organisation specialising in fall protection, Geert Cox has earned the trust of many fall protection users and buyers over the years.

Together with Allert Gort, the technical director, he leads a group of motivated, skilled people who all have occupational safety as daily priority. The knowledge and expertise of the people working at XSPlatforms is reflected in the fact that until today, the company holds a zero accidents record.

The company, which has been established for more than 15 years, manufactures height safety products designed for high levels of quality and ease-of-use.

From its branches in Western Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America, XSPlatforms also provides training for users, risk inventories and worldwide consultancy services.

What sets XSPlatforms’ solutions apart is their attractive, durable design, their high level of reliability, their unprecedented ease of use and their practical innovations. XSPlatforms is your partner in safety, at any height. You can see their extensive product range by logging on to, request brochures by emailing .

Published: 10th May 2011 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Geert Cox