Fall Protection Tips for the Homeowner

home roofing fall protection, safety harness

Some of the safest people on the job do some of the most foolish things at home.  It seems that safety takes on a whole new meaning when you’re at home because, well, nobody is making you pay attention to it.  OSHA has no jurisdiction over what you do in – or on –  your own house and there’s no safety manager threatening to give you a day off if you don’t fall in line. 

I’ll admit, I may have been guilty of a fall protection violation or two in the past while trying to string those icicle lights across the gutter, or while searching for a leak in the roof, but, as I ventured further into my career in safety, I realized something very important – something that may come as a shock to some of you: When it comes to being at home versus being on the jobsite – gravity doesn’t care.

You see, if you’re being safe on the job just to appease your boss or the safety manager, if your company’s program is built around being compliant rather than being safe, then you’re doing it wrong.  Everything should be built around the idea that your well-being is more important than anything else and, if it is, then that culture should translate to any work you might be doing at home. 

Yet, you can hear some of the same excuses coming out of the mouths of safety professionals when talking about work at home that make us cringe when workers say them on the job:  I don’t have time!  I was only going to be up there for one second!  It’s too expensive!  Where am I supposed to tie-off to anyway?

The excuses boil down to two main reasons (for safety professionals and non-safety professionals alike) why fall protection is not used at home: ease of use and cost.  Let’s be honest, nobody is doing neighborhood fall protection training classes, so somebody who isn’t exposed to safety on the job might not be familiar with what products are available or, if they are, how to use those products (try to look at full-body harness from the point of view of somebody seeing it for the first time – what are the odds they wear it right and/or use it correctly?).

Somebody who doesn’t deal with fall protection on a regular basis may not realize that anchors made for wooden truss roofs actually exist.  If they are even aware of fall protection products, they might be picturing large, steel retractable lanyards or needing a steel beam for an anchor.  Any one of their misconceptions and/or lack of knowledge could make the whole prospect seem highly daunting.  Most likely, though, all these people are thinking is, “I have great balance and if I DO fall, I’ll be able to catch myself first.”  They don’t have the luxury of Mr. or Mrs. Safety Manager explaining how many feet they’ll fall in the blink of an eye.

As far as cost, with more and more technology and competition in the fall protection manufacturing sector, prices have come down quite a bit from where they once were.  Many anchors can be found for less than $50.  Harnesses and lanyards can be purchased for under $100.  Perhaps seeing how inexpensive these things are raises the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”

In some ways you would be right to be concerned about that, but not in a performance capacity.  If anything, a “cheaper” harness might be a little less comfortable than a more expensive one, but in the end, as long as you buy one that meets ANSI standards, they all need to meet the same rigorous testing requirements.  This means that they’ll all be able to perform the same way.

In the end, your harnesses and lanyards will be the same (remember to calculate your fall distance), you’ll just need to find the right anchor point to use.  Some can be installed and left in place.  Others are meant to be used before shingles go on.  There are even railings designed for steep-sloped roofs if you intend on spending some time up there on a project.  Whatever you do, though, if you’re not familiar with the products, don’t guess.  Ask the manufacturer or distributor to help you out.  They may know a product better suited for what you’re doing.  

Remember, protect yourself properly – because gravity doesn’t care.

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