Trends in … fall protection

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Stay safe when your life is on the line

By Tracy Haas, editorial assistant

While tragic, it likely is not surprising to hear about a worker dying after suffering a fall from height. According to the 2012 edition of the National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts,” falls to a lower level ranked second for on-the-job fatalities in 2009, with 538 deaths occurring.

When asked about new technology in the fall protection field, Arnold Timothy Galpin, engineering manager from the Morgantown, PA-based Rigid Lifelines division of SPANCO Inc., spoke of new developments in two kinds of self-retracting lifelines.

The first type, a self-lowering SRL, “will automatically switch into a ‘descent’ mode that will lower the worker (to the ground if the lanyard is long enough) at 4 feet per second,” Galpin said. The second, a leading-edge SRL, “will contact the leading edge of the working surface during a fall,” Galpin said. “The leading-edge SRL employs a much stronger lanyard that will resist ‘cutting’ should the lanyard contact a sharp or semi-sharp leading edge.”

As for future technology, “We are still waiting for the invention of a ‘sky hook’ that magically provides an anchorage point in the sky,” Galpin said. “Until then, the next best things are swing arms and travelling bridge fall arrest systems.”

No matter what kind of protection is used, care must be taken. Harnesses, lanyards and other fall protection systems can be complicated and time-consuming to use properly, but shortcuts can result in lives lost.

“One of the more common errors that end users make is to attempt to use the products for applications they were not designed to address,” said Randy Marzicola, director of channel development at McConnellsburg, PA-based JLG Industries Inc. There’s not one single answer to how to correct this, but it’s a combination of new innovative products, education, safety awareness and advocacy.”

Working at heights is a dangerous business. So what is the most important thing both employers and employees should realize when it comes to fall protection? “Without a doubt – limiting fall distance,” Galpin said. “If you want your workers to be able to return to work directly after a fall, design the fall arrest systems to minimize fall distances to as short as possible.”

Coming next month:
Head/face protection

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