Do You Make These Three Fall Protection Mistakes?
Fall protection rules can seem complicated because every situation is different.
- A roof that may be safe in one scenario needs a completely different approach in another.
- A lanyard that is good for the work you are performing today is unacceptable for the work you’re performing tomorrow.
- The rails that normally guard the platform you are working on were damaged in the prior shift.
Even for those who know the rules forward and back, each fall protection situation is a challenge.
What’s worse is that over the years, some people have had their misinformation or incorrect approaches to fall protection reinforced by others who didn’t fully understand (or care to understand) what is actually required. As a result, workers or supervisors have developed not only bad habits, but potentially deadly habits, by creating a false sense of security. It causes people to take risks they otherwise would not have taken. And if things go wrong, the consequences could be dire.
So what common mistakes occur in the world of fall protection?
1. Failure to Properly Guard Skylights
You’re patching up a roof, building a new one, or servicing your air handling equipment. You’re surrounded by warning flags or rails and you have a safety monitor in place to let you know if you’re getting too close to the edge ( see this blog for more information on warning lines and monitors ). You’ve done everything right.
But what about those skylights? Skylights are often overlooked as a fall hazard when working on roofs. They’re covered, so they’re ignored. The problem is that the glass, plastic, and even sometimes the protective caging cannot withstand the forces of a falling person…or even the weight of a person sitting on it.
Skylights must be protected. Simply adding the proper type of skylight protection screen, can eliminate this problem. If that’s not feasible, temporary railings could also do the trick, but one way or the other, they must be protected.
2. Failure to Guard an Open Roof Hatch
Like skylights, hatches often go overlooked as a fall hazard. A hatch may be a safe way to access the roof, but open unprotected holes in the roof are the very definition of a fall hazard. Why would one hole be different than any other? Just because we have to go through it at some point?
The fact is that hatches are no different than any other opening. They must be protected and there are products on the market that make this simple, such as these easy-to-install hatch railing.
In addition, you need to pay attention to your roof hatches to see if they were installed in the proper configuration. Putting rails up around your hatch is going to do nothing for your workers if the gate opens up to the edge of the roof. If this is the case, you will either need a rail at the edge of the roof or you will need to turn your hatch around to ensure that workers are exiting away from the edge.
Just because something should have been installed in a manner that doesn’t create a hazard, doesn’t mean it was! Don’t assume. Check the configurations.
3. Failure to Inspect Gear Every Time
You purchase your safety equipment and give it to the workers. What happens from there? The workers have been trained (hopefully!), so it’s in their hands, right? Well, aside from the fact that periodic Competent Person inspections need to be performed, those harnesses, lanyards, and other parts of your fall protection systems need to be inspected every day before use.
The attitude of “it was fine yesterday so it must be fine today” could be a fatal one. Employees should be trained not only to inspect their equipment every day but how to inspect their equipment. You cannot assume that they know what they’re looking for.
Harnesses should be checked to ensure that things like:
- Stitching hasn’t become undone
- There are no wear points in the nylon that passes through buckles
- There is no sign of damage around frequently used grommets.
Self-retracting lifelines must be checked to ensure the ability for full deployment and that the cable or nylon is in good shape. All equipment should be checked to make sure it hasn’t been involved in a fall. Grease, burns, slices, and fraying are just a few of the things that need to raise red flags to the employee.
As you’re checking your workers, if you notice poor fall protection being used then it’s obvious it is not being inspected. Immediately remove it from service and re-train the personnel in question. Replace the bad equipment with new full body harnesses, safety lanyards, self-retracting lifelines, or whatever else needs to be replaced. This equipment is expected to save your employees’ lives. It needs to be in tip-top shape the first time, every time.
Achieving proper fall protection could be difficult enough. Don’t further complicate it by missing these easily corrected hazards.