Trends in ... fall protection

Know the risks to stay better protected

By Tracy Haas, editorial assistant

Working at height is an inherently dangerous job, and Nate Damro, vice president of global marketing for Red Wing, MN-based Capital Safety, wants to spread the word that fall protection equipment needs to be taken seriously. “I would like people to be most focused on the fact that falls happen every single day, and they can be prevented with little to no impact on the job or productivity,” he said. To effectively handle the prevention of falls, Damro noted that every at-height workplace needs a documented rescue plan. “There are many products and technologies that can be very useful in a variety of situations, but if they are not well understood, it is easy to use them incorrectly and increase the exposure,” he said.

Other safety experts agree that problems exist with the proper use of fall protection equipment. “Workers consistently misuse fall protection products by failing to consider fall protection as a system,” said Tim Higgins, general manager for Palatine, IL-based RTC Fall Protection. “In many cases, a worker will don a harness and connect a lanyard to the harness and an anchorage without considering what will happen if they fall,” he said. “They have not considered that their anchor point is too low for the work they are doing, and they are likely to fall to the lower level before their fall protection engages – a strong possibility when the anchorage is below (standing) shoulder height, or when there are obstructions that may be encountered during the fall.”

So what can employers and workers do to stay safe? “A comprehensive safety program needs to be developed with management and employee buy-in, but most important, a culture of safety needs to be nurtured with strong commitment by all parties,” said Randy Marzicola, director, channel development for McConnellsburg, PA-based JLG Industries Inc.

Damro believes two major things need to happen regarding fall protection safety: First, “continued support and investment in education and awareness around fall protection, fall protection hazards and fall protection equipment” need to be a priority. Second, “manufacturers must continue to design and develop products and programs that are easy and intuitive,” Damro said. He believes this will help workers feel confident about their safety while working at height.

Some good news is that fall protection equipment is continually being upgraded to provide better comfort and safety, and to promote compliance. “Comfort and convenience have been the biggest innovations in fall protection,” Higgins said. “Harnesses are much more comfortable than they were many years ago, with foam padding and moisture-wicking materials.”

Damro noted that a growing trend is smaller back-mounted self-retracting lifelines. “These are a safer alternative to energy-absorbing lanyards because they reduce the fall clearances needed in most situations,” he said.

Falls can happen anywhere, at any time, so workers need to constantly be aware of their own safety and avoid complacency. “I wear a seat belt when I drive because I don’t want to wake up in the hospital and have a doctor tell me I wouldn’t be paralyzed if I had been wearing it,” Higgins said. “Workers at height should use fall protection for similar reasons.”

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

Coming next month … Head/face protection

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