Have You Seen These? We Have…and They’re Dangerous
We’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll reiterate it now: the illusion of safety is often much more dangerous than no safety at all. Of course, we’re not advocating for no safety, but when somebody is given a false sense of security, they’re bound to take risks they wouldn’t otherwise take. However, if they believed there were no safety precautions at all in a situation, they would probably be much more careful about what they were doing (probably).
One good example of where we often tend to see a false sense of security is at the top of fixed ladders. How often have you seen a good, solid safety system on a building’s roof? Most often, there’s nothing at all except maybe a couple of handholds.
Here are some of the biggest offenders we’ve seen:
Remember the old adage: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Obviously, when dealing with a plastic chain, that weak link is going to be much weaker than when you’re dealing with a steel chain. Plastic may not only fail to hold you when it’s new, but over time it could be affected by weather, UV light from the sun, and physical abuse. Even on steel chains, links stretch, twist, or otherwise lose integrity. It’s no different with plastic, it just happens faster. Remember, OSHA allows for chains at the top of ladderways in lieu of railings, but they must offer the same protection and be able to withstand 200 lbs. of force. Do your plastic chains do that?
Chain Attached with an S-Hook
There’s a reason why safety hooks exist: because somewhere along the line, S-Hooks and other less-safe products failed to do the intended job. Not only is it easy for an S-Hook to get knocked free of its eye-bolt, it’s also easy for it to stretch and lose its shape. Soon, your S-Hook is looking like a fancy cursive J-Hook on its way to a simple lower-case L hook. But, let’s say it holds shape. The very fact that it’s open ended on both ends, gives double the opportunity for a failure. Now, let’s just say it holds its shape AND you never allow enough slack in the chain for it to come off, you’ve still got to remove the chain to pass through. At this point, there is slack and the hook can come off falling to the ground. How is that a problem? Well, now, with no protection in place whatsoever, somebody is bending over at the top of the ladder to get the hook back. Overall, S-Hooks are a bad option.
The very nature of a chain means that the worker has to unhook and re-hook the chain. Often, that second part is left undone, thereby completely negating any protection you’d intended to have in the first place. A protective system should be like a safety power button on a tool – it fails safe. The reason you have to keep the trigger depressed on a drill is so that if you let go, the drill stops. This is because you may not always be letting go intentionally. If you had a heart attack, say, the last thing you need is to drop a running drill onto yourself. Gates should operate the same way. They fail safe. You walk through and it closes behind you. It opens outward so that nobody can back into or stumble their way into the ladderway. A chain can’t do that. The human factor now comes into play and whether that factor is error or laziness, it can create a very dangerous situation.
We’re not saying gates are the best solution, we’re saying properly installed gates are the best solution. And, unfortunately, gates are not always properly installed. We’ve seen gates installed right at the top of a ladder so that in order to access the roof or platform you are climbing to, you need to manipulate the gate while holding onto the ladder. This should never be the case. There should always be an offset at the top of the ladder. This way the climber can access the roof safely, then open the gate once they are away from the ladder. Some installations will have an offset without a gate. While this isn’t the perfect solution, it is still better than plastic chains, bad hooks, or no protection at all.
Your facility needs to be safe, but offering a false sense of security is only inviting disaster. Review your safety controls. Were they put in place after careful thought and planning or was something just thrown up there to look like worker safety had been considered? Was the money spent to buy the proper protection or did you go with something cheap that might not meet the necessary requirements? Remember, your workers will take risks they otherwise wouldn’t have taken if they believe they are protected. Don’t allow an employee to lose their life because somebody was unwilling to spend the extra money or because appearance was more important than effectiveness. Gates require no training. They are a simple and effective tool to provide your employees the actual protection they need – and deserve.