Trends in ... fall protection

A streamlined approach

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Talk to people within the fall protection industry, and you will encounter a common mantra: fall-related worker deaths are preventable. And yet, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls to a lower level resulted in 574 work-related fatalities in 2013. If these deaths were preventable, where is the disconnect?

According to fall protection experts, fall-related injuries and deaths have many contributing factors. One commonly cited mistake is miscalculating fall clearance. “Workers need to consider their anchor point height and lanyard length when calculating free fall to ensure they won’t come into contact with anything below them if they fall,” said Steve Kosch, fall protection technical services for St. Paul, MN-based 3M.

“It is also helpful to identify the distance between a fall protection anchorage and nearby objects or equipment to ensure that a worker will not swing into them in the event that fall protection is activated,” said Tim Bambrick, engineering supervisor for Morgantown, PA-based Rigid Lifelines.

Another big problem? Workers are using the wrong products, according to Tom Dillon, market development manager, wind energy, North America, for Lincolnshire, IL-based Honeywell Safety Products. “One harness and a lanyard does not work for everything,” Dillon said. “Often, employers try to streamline purchasing by buying the same harness style in different sizes, and a lanyard, for every person on the job.” Although Dillon noted that this may make purchasing easier, he said it is a disservice to workers. “A competent person needs to match the proper body wear with the proper connecting device – for each and every single application.”

Innovations

Not all the news is grim. New technology is making fall protection equipment and training more streamlined, according to Kosch. “New products also are trending toward lighter materials and compact designs, with rescue continuing to be a significant emphasis,” he said.

Dillon also pointed out the trend toward lighter equipment, stating that manufacturers are now using aluminum for hardware as opposed to steel. “It is important to reduce the weight because it’s often a combination of fatigue and dehydration that play a part in accidents and near misses,” he said.

Regarding fall protection for workers on loading docks and mezzanines, Andy Olson, marketing manager at Rite-Hite Corp., based in Milwaukee, spoke of movable barriers. “The ability to temporarily remove or retract a barrier is key so that trucks can be loaded or unloaded, and material can be added to or removed from a workspace,” he said, adding that the barriers provide a visual barricade even when work is not being performed.

Make training a priority

As with any potentially lifesaving safety device, training is critical. “You can have the best equipment in the world, but if you do not understand the basics of fall protection, it may not matter,” said Jerry Falk, director of training and technical services for Bloomington, MN-based Capital Safety.

Similarly, Bambrick recommends organizations implement comprehensive training programs. “Complete user knowledge of the equipment is critical for proper implementation and use,” he said.

Coming next month … 
Plant safety
Safety tools and knives 

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association