While construction activity often takes place year-round, it truly ramps up in Spring in the U.S. This is often the time that construction companies outfit their employees with proper PPE and training. According to OSHA, falls are the number one cause of death in construction and almost all of them could be prevented with proper PPE and fall protection training. Did you know that the number one cause of construction injuries is also falls? Again, most can be prevented with the right equipment and training.
At General Air, we conduct the required fall training for our customers at no charge. We provide this service because we are passionate about workers’ safety and to bolster our fall protection sales. Along with the training, we outfitted a safety truck with a hoist, allowing us to demonstrate how the equipment works and what happens if proper protocol isn’t followed.
BASICS OF FALL PROTECTION & EQUIPMENT (ABCD’s)
Fall protection systems require several parts working in conjunction. If any one piece of equipment is missing, the system will fail. The easiest way to remember each component is with the A.B.C.D.’s of fall protection.
The anchor is the part that holds the weight of the worker and all the forces that could be involved in a fall. To keep it simple, the anchor must be mounted in a way that it can hold 5,000 lbs., or the weight of a pickup truck. People don’t always recognize the force involved in a fall, so in our demonstrations we perform dead drops with a scale and digital readout so workers can see the actual impact. They are almost always surprised. When a 220 lb. bag is dropped from 5 feet, the result is 2,700 lbs. of pressure – enough to kill a person. At 2,300 lbs. of pressure, internal organs begin to separate if landing flat. Usually, a worker falls headfirst causing head and neck trauma, but even falling flat on a grass lawn from 5 feet can be fatal.
Anchors come in different varieties, depending on the application. Common applications include rooftop mounts, cross arm straps that wrap around AC units, or cement inserts. An anchor can range anywhere from a $50 roof anchor to a $100,000 permanent anchor roof engineered system. Whatever the case, there is an anchor made to handle the weight and force in case worker falls.
B: Body Harness
The body harness comes in many different configurations and sizes. A worker must be fitted to proper size and trained on how to adjust the fittings properly. Harnesses can range in price from $20-$2,000+, depending on the requirements for the job and desired comfort level. A harness must be inspected before each use by the worker, and a harness can only sustain one fall and then it must be destroyed.
All harnesses must have a dorsal “D” ring located between the shoulders in a fall protection set up. Although there are many other places “D” rings can be placed, the dorsal “D” ring is the only attachment point for the lanyard in a fall arrest system.
C: Connection Device (lanyard)
The connection device, or lanyard, must be in place to connect the worker to the anchor or the system is useless. Lanyards come in several different options including ropes, 6 foot lanyards, PFLs, and SRLs in a fall protection system.
6-foot lanyards are the least expensive and most widely used connection device, but they are not always the proper tool. A 6-foot lanyard may be the most cost-effective tool, at around $65, but will the worker be working at a height suitable to use a 6-foot lanyard? Let’s look at an example: if a worker is 6 feet tall, and he is using a 6-foot lanyard, he must be working at a height of over 18 feet or he could potentially hit the ground in a fall. This is because the lanyard has a shock pack built in to slow the worker in a fall and to keep the pressure below the required 1,800 lbs. The shock pack stretches the lanyard another 3 feet when deployed. Additionally, there needs to be at least 3 feet of clearance between the potential fall height and the ground to allow for any additional stretching of material. So, a 6-foot worker using a 6 foot lanyard, with a 3 foot shock extension, and a 3 foot clearance must be above 18 feet working height.
A PFL (personal fall limiter) is a much better tool at lower heights because it acts like a seatbelt and stops the worker quickly in a short distance. There is still some measuring involved, but PFLs have become the preferred tool in fall arrest systems. Most construction sites require a dual leg PFL, or 100% tie off lanyard with a leading edge (stainless cable), to ensure the lanyard will not snag or tear if a worker falls off a metal edge of the structure.
Another option is an SRL (self-retracting lifeline). An SRL is not worn by the worker, it is attached to the anchor and the lanyard is brought down to connect to the worker. The cable lengths can be as long as 65 feet or more. The SRL can be attached to the anchor to be reused, and many are weatherproof and can be left outside. SRLs range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand depending on the cable length.
D: Dangling (Harness Hang Syndrome/Suspension Trauma)
The last part of the fall system is the emergency plan – what will happen if someone is in a fall? Even when all the parts of the fall arrest system work perfectly, the worker is not out of the woods yet. When a worker is dangling after a fall, all their body weight is now on the harness leg straps, putting a lot of pressure on the femoral arteries, restricting blood flow, and creating pooling blood in legs that can become very harmful within just a few minutes. A good fall protection plan will include emergency response plan to get workers down quickly before a serious situation like suspension trauma can hurt or possibly kill the worker.
There are trauma straps available to help prevent this from happening, the straps can be deployed to take the weight off the arteries by stepping into the stirrups and alleviating the weight from the groin.
Fall protection equipment is not only necessary to our construction workers and many general industry workers, but it can also be a great addition to your product offering and an excellent service to offer your customers. The sale of the products, training, and repairs can be very lucrative for your business, and as I always say, if you’re not providing these products and services, your competitors are.