Trends in ... fall protection
‘Personal inspection is vital’
In 2010, falls to a lower level ranked second – behind highway crashes – in number of workplace fatalities, according to the 2013 edition of the National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts.” In 2010, 522 workers died as a result of a fall to a lower level, and nearly 60,000 workers were injured. However, injuries and fatalities caused by falls can be prevented.
New products in the fall protection field include lanyards and self-retracting devices with varying lengths, according to Kevin Whaley, manager of quality and testing for Cullman, AL-based Elk River Inc. Describing a 12-foot free fall energy-absorbing lanyard, Whaley said “this type of product will allow for a longer free fall and longer deployment distances.” However, he added, close attention must be paid to fall clearance calculations to account for swing falls and contact with lower-level obstructions.
Another recent product to the market Whaley mentioned is trauma relief straps. “After a fall occurs, the body quickly feels the effects of the full-body harness webbing, mainly in the legs,” he said. “Trauma relief straps allow a fall victim to deploy a small device that gives them a place to ‘stand’ to take the pressure off of the legs and leg straps, improving blood circulation.”
While these products aim to make workers safer and more comfortable, Whaley cautioned that misuse is still a problem. One area of concern is product inspection. “Using life safety equipment without inspecting it can spell disaster during a fall. Never depend solely on someone else to check your equipment for you,” Whaley said. Improper fit of equipment is another danger. “An example would be the loose fit of a full-body harness to the worker,” he said. “A loose-fitting harness causes further trauma to the body during fall arrest than a properly adjusted harness.”
So how can workers best protect themselves from the dangers associated with working at height? Nate Damro, vice president of global marketing for Red Wing, MN-based Capital Safety, recommends a variety of solutions. Employers should ensure workers have proper training on how to use equipment for particular applications, understand challenges such as fall-clearance distances and anchor points, and use manufacturer training to ensure the correct equipment is used, he said.
Ultimately, “Incorrect usage can mean the difference in life or death in a fall arrest situation,” Whaley said. “The thing to remember is that the user is the one who stands to suffer the worst consequences if the fall arrest system fails, so personal inspection is vital.”
Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association