Falls while working at height are all too common; the greater tragedy is that each fall is preventable. With around 2.3 million work-related deaths worldwide annually, with the construction industry accounting for about 60,000 of these fatalities, fall protection is moving higher up the agenda globally. As a contractor, you are in charge of protecting your workers. When it comes to fall protection, equipment isn't enough.
Most health and safety managers are aware that assessment for, and the provision of, fall protection equipment is a requirement for workers performing tasks as soon as they either leave the ground or are near an excavation. Many facilities have the appropriate equipment in place to prevent or control a fall. But having the equipment and making sure workers use it is not enough. A fall protection and rescue plan needs to be
in place to truly protect you, your workers and your company. Guy Schaller discusses the benefits of developing and implementing a fall protection and rescue plan, including injury prevention, monetary savings and the advantages of being a proactive company that is serious about the safety of its employees.
Injury and death prevention
A contractor's utmost concern must be keeping workers safe. Having a fall protection and rescue plan in place prior to beginning a job gives contractors the time to analyse and prepare for the fall hazards that a worker may face. If the plan is developed in advance, you can be methodical about how to best prevent a fall. You have the time to train your workers on the ground and be sure they are fully prepared for the hazardous situations before they go to work at heights.
Active fall protection gear - 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.
When you have a plan 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 a proactive company that is serious about the safety of its employees
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 favorable 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), 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 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 that 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.
Guy Schaller, Managing Director, Capital Safety
Capital Safety, the world's leading designer and manufacturer of height safety and fall protection equipment with 9 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.
Tel: + 33 (0)4 97 10 00 10 or visit www.capitalsafety.co
Published: 01st Aug 2009 in Health and Safety Middle East