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The importance of fall clearance

May 1, 2012

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Knowing fall clearance is critical when selecting proper fall protection equipment, what do I need to consider?

Responding is Edward J. Bickrest, global brand manager, Miller Fall Protection by Honeywell Safety Products, Franklin, PA.

Answer: A personal fall arrest system is composed of three key components or types of fall protection equipment: anchorage connector, body wear and connecting device. Although a lot of focus is given to the anchorage connector and body wear (full-body harness), when discussing fall protection, the connecting device (shock-absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lifeline) between these two components actually bears the greatest forces during a fall. Considered the “critical link” in a fall protection system, a connecting device is “activated” during a fall. It is vitally important that the proper fall clearance is determined, and calculated accordingly, before working at height.

To select the appropriate connecting device, consider the following factors:

  • The area directly below your work level – next lower level, equipment or machinery, or any other obstruction.
  • Potential fall distance. This distance is greater than most people realize, so careful consideration of the fall clearance calculation must be determined to avoid serious injury from contact with a lower level or obstruction in the event of a fall.

There are two basic categories of connecting devices – shock-absorbing lanyards and self-retracting lifelines:

  • A traditional shock-absorbing lanyard is designed with either a special built-in shock absorber or a shock absorber pack that smoothly expands to reduce fall arrest forces.
  • A self-retracting lifeline (fall limiter, personal fall limiters, yo-yo, seat belt, block, etc.) is designed to activate instantly, within inches.

Always know your fall clearance. Fall clearance required varies by the type of connecting device and its performance specifications. Refer to, and read, the manufacturer’s instructions for complete details for calculating fall clearance to ensure maximum safety on the jobsite.

Companies and safety directors are responsible for being familiar with the various types of fall protection equipment available and deciding which would be most suitable for their specific work environment. Because situations differ and can change quickly, it is impossible for the manufacturer to determine the equipment that will provide maximum fall protection for each job/application. By understanding how fall protection equipment operates and knowing the differences in product functions, the company/safety director can select equipment that is best suited for his or her workers and jobsite.

Editor’s Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as National Safety Council endorsements.

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