Trends in ... fall protection
Safety+Health spoke with Melissa Black, president of consulting firm MsR3 LLC and an adjunct professor in occupational safety and health at Orange Beach, AL-based Columbia Southern University, to get her thoughts on what’s new in the fall protection field, how workers can avoid misuse and how workers can best stay safe.
Safety+Health: What are some new technologies being used in fall protection?
Melissa Black: In the early ’90s, fall prevention technology made significant leaps when we began using body harnesses with shock-absorbing lanyards versus waist belts. We now have belts that can withstand various environmental extremes, connection points that are placed based on anticipated forces, limiting and self-retracting lanyards, and other advances that address fall forces using deceleration devices. The awareness of anchor point(s) rated to at least 5,000 pounds for personal fall arrest systems has finally happened in the industry, so there’s no more “tying off to sprinkler lines.” There are now a multitude of choices for mobile, temporary and permanent, properly engineered anchor points and lifeline systems. Components to eliminate rollout are advancing, as is a new awareness of component metal fatigue. The need for rescue plans and new devices to support self-rescue also have been introduced. Ladder safety system designs can now ensure 100% tie-off. There are even new portable mobile guardrail and ladder designs in use at many jobsites.
S+H: Are there common scenarios in which people misuse these products?
Black: It would seem that new technologies present a learning curve for many. There are so many innovative designs, so assuring products are compatible and proper use might still be a challenge. Many jobsites have more than one manufacturer’s product in use. Manufacturers have some great apps to assist with the math and proper use of systems. But if systems are so complicated that an app is needed to ensure fall distance clearance and swing radius have been addressed with the PFAS, is that part of the new challenge? Like many technologies, is there a learning curve to these great solutions?
S+H: What should be most important to workers when it comes to fall protection?
Black: No one likes to feel “dumb.” That is a terrible word to illustrate that it is our human condition to not want to seem like we are ill-informed, especially in the workplace. Quite often, trades that use fall protection equipment pride themselves on their mechanical aptitude. These new technologies may need more hands-on training, and systems used on jobsites by subs should be reviewed. All systems used on a jobsite should require demonstrated competency prior to use. Workers need to have a culture where uncertainties are addressed and questions are encouraged. It is better to have your intelligence slightly insulted by overtraining than your life ended by a fall.