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Toolbox Talk on Fall Protection
It is important for you to understand the difference between a fall arrest system and fall restraint system. These are most commonly used in the construction industry, but may apply to many other situations where workers must work at heights.
FALL RESTRAINT: A fall restraint system consists of the equipment used to keep a worker from reaching a fall point, such as the edge of a roof or the edge of an elevated working surface. The most commonly utilized fall restraint system is a standard guardrail. A tie off system that “restrains” the worker from falling off an elevated working surface is another type of fall restraint.
FALL ARREST: A personal fall arrest system means a system used to arrest a worker in a fall from a working level. It consists of an anchor point, connectors, a body belt or body harness and may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or suitable combinations of these. The entire system must be capable of withstanding the tremendous impact forces involved in stopping or arresting the fall. The forces increase with the fall distance due to acceleration (a person without protection will free fall 4 feet in 1/2 second and 16 feet in 1 second!).
Let’s review 5 key requirements for fall arrest systems:
- Body belts may not be used. A maximum arresting force of 1800 pounds is allowed when a body harness is utilized.
- The system must be rigged so that workers can neither free-fall more than 6 feet or contact a lower level. After the free-fall distance, the deceleration or shock-absorbing component of the system must bring a worker to a complete stop within 3.5 additional feet.
- The anchorage point must be capable of supporting at least 5000 pounds per worker. Most standard guardrail systems are not adequate anchorage points because they are not built to withstand the impact forces generated by a fall.
- The system’s D-ring attachment point for body harnesses must be in the center of the worker’s back near the shoulder level.
- The system components must be inspected for damage and deterioration prior to each use. All components subjected to the impact loading forces of a free-fall must be immediately removed from service.
Always consult the regulations applicable to your place of operation. If you have additional questions regarding fall arrest systems, please contact your Safety Manager or local Prevention Division.
Wear Fall Arrest Equipment
Would you gamble with your life? A lot of people do just that when they fail to inspect their personal fall arrest equipment daily. They gamble that the equipment will save their life if they fall. Wearing fall arrest equipment without inspecting it provides a false sense of security.
This equipment is subject to tremendous loads during a fall, so unless each component is thoroughly inspected and properly used, it may not save your life. Always follow manufacturers’ recommendations when inspecting your equipment. Here are several things to look for.
Belts & Body Harnesses:
- Thoroughly inspect all nylon webbing on belt/body harnesses for frayed edges, broken fibres, burn marks, deterioration or other visible signs of damage. Do the same if the belt or body harness is constructed of other materials. Stitching should be intact and not torn or loose.
- The belt or harness should be somewhat “soft” and flexible and not stiff from dirt or contaminants.
- Check to see that buckles and “D” rings are not distorted or damaged. Look closely at all components for stress cracks, deformity, gouging, corrosion and sharp edges. Inspect connection points where the buckle or “D” ring is attached to the belt or body harness. Ensure that no stitching is pulled and that the buckle or “D” ring is securely attached.
- Inspect all rivets and grommets to be certain they are not deformed and are securely fastened to the belt or body harness and cannot be pulled loose.
- If you find any of these conditions during the inspection, do not use the equipment.
- Completely check the entire length of the lanyard, looking for cuts, fraying, deterioration, knots, kinks, burns or visible signs of damage. Stitching should be intact and not torn or loose. Spliced ends must also be carefully examined for damage or deterioration. Check to see that the lanyard is somewhat “soft” and not stiff from dirt or contaminants.
- If using a “shock absorber” type of lanyard, look for the “warning tag” which indicates that the lanyard has been exposed to a fall.
- Snap hooks and eyes should not be distorted or bent. Inspect them for cracks, sharp edges, gouges or corrosion. Check to be sure the locking mechanism is operating properly and that there is no binding of the mechanism.
- If using a self-retracting lanyard (SRL), you must inspect the body of the mechanism for flaws to assure that all nuts, screws and rivets are installed and tight. Also, check crimped ends or stitching for damage. Inspect the entire length of the SRL for any visible signs of defects.
- Test the locking mechanism by pulling sharply on the cable end to be sure it locks immediately and firmly.
If you like to gamble at the card table—okay, but don’t do it with your life!
Fall Arrest and Emergency Procedures
Serious physical injury or harness-induced death (suspension trauma) may occur following a fall if the worker remains suspended in the harness. The factors affecting the degree of risk of suspension trauma include:
- The length of time suspended
- Cardiovascular disease
- Inability to move legs
- Respiratory disease
- Injuries sustained during the fall
- Blood loss
Unconscious/immobile workers suspended in their harness will not be able to move their legs and will not fall into a horizontal position. In this static upright position, venous pooling is likely to occur and cause orthostatic intolerance, especially if the suspended worker is left in place for some time. Research has shown that suspension in a fall arrest device can result in unconsciousness, followed by death, in less than 30 minutes.
The amount of time spent in this position affects the manner in which the worker should be rescued. Moving a worker quickly into a horizontal position may cause an abrupt increase in deoxygenated blood flow to the heart, causing cardiac arrest! Rescue procedures must consider this.
Discuss the rescue procedure established for your site; ensure the procedure includes the following contingency-based actions:
- Ensure pre-planning has taken place to address this kind of emergency, including establishing an emergency call procedure to ensure timely rescue and emergency first aid.
- If self-rescue is impossible or if rescue cannot be performed promptly, the worker must be trained to “pump” his legs frequently to activate the muscles and reduce the risk of venous pooling.
- If possible, footholds can be used to alleviate pressure, delay symptoms, and provide support for muscle pumping.
- Continuously monitor the suspended worker for signs and symptoms of orthostatic intolerance and trauma.
- On rescue, ensure the worker receives emergency first aid. If the worker is unconscious, keep the worker’s air passages open. Transport the worker with the upper body raised if possible.
- Monitor the worker after rescue and ensure the worker is evaluated by a health-care professional. Delayed effects are not unusual and are difficult to assess on the scene.
WORKER FALL ARREST TRAINING CHECKLIST
- Correct use and care of fall arrest systems
- Proper fit of PPE to ensure it performs as intended
- Review Job Hazard Assessment (JHA)
- Methods to reduce risk of falling; the importance of prevention
- Site-specific emergency rescue procedure
- Discussion of signs and symptoms of harness-induced trauma or orthostatic intolerance
- Discussion of factors increasing a worker’s risk
- Methods to diminish risk while suspended
- Document training; workers to sign acknowledgement of training
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