Fall arrest systems are crucial in preventing falling accidents and fatalities at the worksite.
- How to properly set up a fall arrest system should be understood by workers.
- Every employee should know the fall protection requirements for their industry.
- Training on how to use fall arresters is key to protecting workers at heights.
What Is a Fall Arrest System?
Fall protection is a type of personal protective equipment that’s required whenever you work at a height. This could be anytime you use an aerial lift or are working on a scaffold at a construction site.
There are two different types of fall protection and the difference between them is important. Basically, one system prevents you from falling in the first place while the other stops you after you fall. This second type is known as a fall arrest system.
How To Properly Set Up a Fall Arrest System
In order for a fall arrest system to work as it should, you need to set it up right. This includes knowing what equipment you need, how to inspect it, and how to attach it properly.
Fall Protection Equipment
Fall protection equipment, in terms of fall arrest, has many components, including:
- Lanyards and lifelines
- Anchor points
Each component needs to be inspected for damage before they are used. The straps on harnesses, lifelines, and lanyards need to be free from tears and frays. Buckles need to be undamaged and need to be able to lock and unlock properly. You also need to check D-rings to ensure they are connected securely to the harness and are not bent or cracked.
Anchor points won’t actually be on your fall arrest equipment. Instead, they are the points around your worksite where you can connect your lanyard when you need to work at heights. That said, you still need to inspect them before beginning work. Make sure anchor points aren’t damaged or worn in any way; otherwise, they won’t be able to adequately stop your fall.
Lanyards vs. Lifelines
It’s important that you understand the difference between lanyards and lifelines; this difference is sometimes the type of material each are made from, but it could also be their length or intended purpose.
Lanyards have the tendency to be shorter in length so they don’t let an employee free fall more than 6 feet. Their actual length may be determined by the manufacturer, as well as by specific industry guidelines. Many different types of materials are used to create lanyards, such as nylon or polyester.
On the other hand, we could be referring to a few different things when we talk about lifelines. You may have heard of horizontal, vertical, and self-retracting lifelines before; let’s briefly review what they are and how they relate to a fall arrest system.
- Horizontal Lifeline: This type of lifeline has three connections; two to separate anchorage points and one to the worker. You can usually find these type of lifelines at roofing projects. A horizontal lifeline is stretched a certain distance along the roof and each roofer connects their lanyard to this lifeline with a carabiner.
- Vertical Lifelines: Lanyards actually fall under the classification of vertical lifelines because there are only two connections: one to the anchor point and one to the worker. These type of lifelines are more common if you have to climb something to complete a job, such as a water tower or scaffolding.
- Self-Retracting Lifelines (SRLs): These are a more advanced type of vertical lifeline and are usually made of wire rope. SRLs have a housing unit that the rope coils into and a braking system that activates if a worker begins to fall.
As you use fall protection, you may find yourself using both lanyards and lifelines as methods to stop a fall.
How Do You Put On a Fall Arrest Harness?
A typical harness has straps and buckles that go across your chest, over your shoulders and back, and around your legs. This ensures that even if your fall protection stops you mid-fall, you’ll be secure until you can be rescued.
Putting on a harness is a relatively simple process. The first step is to put on the shoulder straps, making sure the D-ring sits in the middle of your back. Once the shoulder straps and D-ring are in place, fasten the chest and leg straps. The leg straps should sit around your upper thighs.
Next, tighten all the straps on the harness until there is no more slack, being careful to avoid making them too tight. Too much slack will not secure you properly if you fall from a height, but straps that are too tight can cut off circulation in your limbs and lead to further injury.
One way to ensure you’ve adjusted your harness straps right is to lay your hand flat and slide your fingers into the strap. If you can fit your whole hand under the strap with ease, then it’s too loose; if you struggle to fit your fingers under the strap or can’t fit them at all, the strap is too tight. Ideally, you should be able to fit two or three fingers under the strap snugly. After adjusting the straps, tuck away the ends to prevent them from getting caught while you work.
Personal Fall Arrest Systems
As the name may imply, a personal fall arrest is designed to be worn by only one worker at a time. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has specific guidelines for personal fall arrest systems, from weight limits to maximum arresting force.
OSHA requires personal arrest systems to accomodate 310 pounds or less. This includes the employee’s body weight as well as any tools they may use. It’s very important that workers don’t exceed this capacity. Exceeding the weight limit capacity in any way could lead to serious injury or even death in the event of a fall.
If there is any work that needs to be done at heights, workers need to remember to inspect their fall protection before they put it on and use it. If they find any kind of damage, then the fall protection needs to be removed from service immediately.
All straps, lanyards, and lifelines involved in personal fall arrest gear must be used only for personal fall arrest and not for situations like hoisting materials or equipment. This OSHA guideline goes both ways; if lanyards and straps are designed for rigging and hoisting materials, they should not be used as lanyards or straps for personal fall arrest systems.
Maximum Arresting Force and Distance
A personal fall arrest system needs to have a maximum arresting force of 1,800 pounds. This is the maximum amount of force the human body can handle in a fall. Anything greater than this capacity could break the lanyard or lifeline and lead to serious injury or death of the worker.
Furthermore, the maximum distance a personal fall arrest system should let an employee fall is 6 feet. Although, according to OSHA, this distance can be less than 6 feet as long as the employee won’t hit another surface below.
Free Fall Distance
OSHA regulations require that systems are put in place so that a worker doesn’t free fall more than 6 feet. Your fall arrest gear must stop your fall by that distance, otherwise you’ll be at risk for serious injury. This free fall distance should help you select the appropriate lanyard length. You don’t want to find yourself working at 15 feet above the ground with a 12-foot lanyard; in the event of a fall, not only would it let you free fall more than the maximum distance, it would also expose you to greater chance of injury.
At What Height Does Fall Protection Need To Be Used?
As we mentioned previously, you will need to wear fall protection whenever you work at heights, whether it’s scaffolding, roofing, or you are just operating an aerial lift. However, different industries have different requirements for when it’s required to wear fall protection.
OSHA’s general industry requirements says that workers need to wear fall protection if they work at heights of 4 feet or more. This means any work that is not encompassed by the agriculture, maritime, or construction industries.
If you work in construction and find that your job wil have you working at a height, you will need to wear fall protection if that height is 6 feet or greater.
The maritime industry has different fall protection standards, based on the job at hand. If you work in a shipyard, you’ll need to wear a personal fall arrest system whenever you are working at heights of at least 5 feet. If you are a part of longshoring operations, however, that height increases to 8 feet.
If you work in steel erection, you will need to wear fall protection if you are more than 15 feet above a walking or working surface. This includes the ground or any other walking or working surface.
While scaffolding may be a part of the construction industry, it does have it’s own standards for fall protection. If a worker is 10 feet or more above a lower level, they will need to wear fall protection.
It may seem odd that there are some circumstances in which ladders would require the use of fall protection, but keep in mind that these are not your typical ladders you may keep in your garage. If a worker is climbing up a ladder that is 24 feet high or more, they are required to wear fall protection. You can find such ladders on the sides of silos or water towers.
How Do You Use a Fall Arrestor?
Before you do any work at a height, make sure you are thoroughly trained in fall protection. Training can be done in many formats, such as online or in-person. Once you’ve completed a training course, you’ll receive a certificate that will be valid for 3 years. Training should cover different types of fall protection, their uses, and how to take care of them.
In addition to the general fall protection we discussed earlier, you may want to become familiar with rope grab devices. Rope grabs are special tools that a worker can use as a part of their fall arrest system. However, you should only use a rope grab if you are wearing a full-body harness and are connected to an adequate anchor point. OSHA does not require workers to use them, but they are helpful.
What You Need To Know About Rescues
No matter how much experience you may have with fall protection and prevention, accidents happen. When they do, it’s best to know how to handle them to ensure your safety and the safety of your coworkers.
After an employee falls, it’s best they are rescued as soon as possible. If it’s feasible, the most ideal rescue is a self-rescue where the fallen employee can pull themselves back up and continue working. If the worker cannot rescue themselves, call 9-1-1 and do what you can in the meantime to help them to safety. The sooner you can help yourself or a fallen coworker, the less chance there is for the effects of suspension trauma to set in.
Suspension trauma occurs from a loss of circulation in a person’s limbs from being suspended too long. This leads to other symptoms such as:
- Toxic blood return from poor circulation
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
In extreme cases—namely situations where the fallen employee has been suspended for too long—suspension trauma can lead to death. The sooner you can help yourself or help others after a fall, the greater the chance of survival.