Five Ways to Kill Yourself While Using a Fall Protection System

Five Ways to Kill Yourself While Using a Fall Protection System

Wait, kill yourself while using a fall protection system?  Those things are supposed to prevent that from happening, right?  Of course they are, but the key part of that phrase is: supposed to.  If you’re not using a fall protection system properly, or not taking into account some external factors that could render your system useless, your fall protection is doing nothing but providing you a false sense of security.  So, what are some of the things you could be doing that could be endangering yourself or your employees even if a fall protection system is in place?

Ignore Swing Hazard

As we’ve previously explained in this article, swing hazards are a very real thing.  If you don’t plan properly, or if you travel at too great an angle from your anchor point, you may be hurt when you fall, even if your personal fall arrest does its job properly.  Swing hazards occur when the engaging of your fall arrest system cause you to swing back into a structure.  Rather than suffer injuries from the fall itself, you suffer injuries from the impact with the structure and, because of the force associated with falls, you could pick up quite a bit of speed and impact with great force.  Click through the link above to learn how to prepare for and prevent swing hazards.

Ignore Fall Clearance

You cannot determine what type of fall protection you need without first determining your fall clearance.  Fall protection systems are not one-size-fits-all.  Unfortunately, a great number of people feel that they have either protected themselves, achieved compliance, or fooled anybody who is looking by throwing on a 6’ lanyard and a harness and tying off, but unless your anchor point is about 18.5’ above the lower level, that fall arrest system isn’t going to help.  As demonstrated here, your body length, stretching of your harness, expansion of your deceleration device, and sag in your anchor point are all factors in just how much room you need.  Simply assuming a 6’ lanyard is going to protect you once you’re over 6’ is potentially deadly.

Trust Without Inspecting

If there’s one rule of thumb you should live by when it comes to safety, it’s “Inspect, inspect, inspect.”  Why would you ever leave your safety to chance?  IF somebody else is inspecting your equipment, people make mistakes, people get tired, people get lazy, people get numb to looking at the same thing over and over, and, frankly, nobody is going to be as vigilant with your life as you will be.  And that’s IF somebody else is inspecting it.  I’ve seen plenty of workers pick up equipment that’s never been inspected by anybody and use it.  The only thing that’s keeping them safe?  Luck.

Whether it’s your fall protection equipment, a ladder, a railing, a tool, a GFCI, or even just your hardhat, check it out before you begin.  If you ever actually NEED the equipment to perform its safety function, you’re going to wish you’d checked first. 

When it comes to fall protection, you should be performing a thorough inspection of every component prior to use.  For instance, as we recently discussed in this article, you should be checking your harness for frays, stretching, burns, discoloring and a variety of other indications that something has happened to it that could cause it to not work properly.  Your lanyards should be inspected for the same, as well as for indication that it has been used in a fall situation.  Any fall protection equipment that has deployed in a fall situation MUST be removed from service (some manufacturers will even replace your deployed equipment with new equipment so that they can use the deployed equipment for studies).  Ladders should not only be inspected prior to use for defects or physical problems, but should also be checked each time you are about to put your weight on it to ensure that it is not going to shift.  Remember, as a colleague discovered on a job a few years back when he stepped onto a fixed ladder that suddenly shifted to the side, that it’s not usually the cartoon-like backwards fall of a ladder that you’re going to encounter, but rather a lateral slide (not that a backward fall couldn’t happen if the ladder wasn’t angled properly).    Railing is another thing that needs to be taken for granted.  On a project for the Erie VA Hospital, a colleague encountered a railing that was attached to coping.  A simple shake of the rail showed that it had no structural integrity and would not support the 200 lbs of force that OSHA requires it to withstand.  Even wire rope rail needs to be inspected so that it is tightened properly and is not showing signs of damage.  Many fatalities have occurred in construction when workers bump up against perimeter cable that is looser than expected and end up falling to their deaths.

Be Alone on a Roof

Even with all of the fall protection in the world, working alone can lead to death.  Go up on a roof by yourself and nobody may come looking for you for a very long time as roofs are not areas that usually see much traffic.  If you have an accident or some type of health issue, such as a heart attack, help can be delayed if they are even summoned at all before it’s too late.  Never go on a roof or any work area alone, unless you have some sort of planned communication or monitoring that would alert somebody if something was wrong.  It is best to employ a roof permit process to prevent your employees from wandering up without anybody knowing about it.  In fact, there are a number of good roof policies you should be following if this is a concern, as we discussed here.

Make your Own... (If You are not Qualified)

Simply put, making your own anything is probably not a great idea.  Manufactured safety equipment goes through a series of tests and has to meet certain standards before being sold (or, at least, you should be looking for the stamp or label that says it meets ANSI standards, or has been tested by UL or equivalent labs, etc.).  Anything you make is not going to be tested that rigorously, if at all, and leaves a large chance for error.  Even something that seems simple, like the idea of tying yourself to something as fall protection is foolish because you may not be fully aware of the forces on a body in a fall, or the fact that tying a knot in rope significantly reduces the strength of the rope.  Building your own lifeline can be dangerous as well, even though you feel you know that the wire rope, u-bolts, and anchors are all strong enough, but did you know that improper tensioning could cause the arresting force during a fall to exceed 5,000 lbs?  In recent years, the cost of fall protection equipment has come down to a point where most things are reasonably priced.  And, even though some things may not be “cheap”, remember that you get what you pay for.  If you ever need that fall protection equipment to work, you’re going to think that it was worth every last penny if it functioned properly. 

Just remember that safety isn’t about putting on a dog and pony show, it’s about actually protecting yourself and/or your employees.  Giving them something that they think is going to help them, but isn’t, is almost more dangerous than giving them nothing at all.  A false sense of security could lead people to take risks that they otherwise wouldn’t have taken.  Do your job as a fall protection equipment user or as an employer and understand what it is you’re providing and what it is that you actually need.  If they don’t match, you could be in for disaster.

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