Ensuring Facility Safety with Fall Protection and PPE
Beyond fall protection systems, you can enhance the safety of your workers by using various forms of PPE.
- By David Ivey
- Oct 01, 2021
Falls from heights remain among the leading causes of workplace injuries and fatalities, and fall protection violations are the most commonly cited by OSHA across all industries. Although many people think of fall protection as belonging to the realm of construction, there are many occasions inside our facilities in which fall protection is required.
According to OSHA’s fall protection standards, workers are required to be tied off anywhere they are working more than four feet off the ground. This scenario occurs frequently in many types of facilities in the general industry during everyday activities such as building maintenance, equipment servicing or loading and unloading. It also may occur more often in your facility depending on the nature of the work you do.
Clearly, fall protection is not just for construction sites. It is important to understand what fall protection equipment you need to have at your facility to comply with OSHA regulations and to keep your workers safe.
It is worth taking a moment to review the so-called “ABCs of fall protection”—Anchorage, Body Wear and Connectors—as well as some of the standard PPE you can use to keep workers safe inside your facility.
The first element of fall protection is anchorage, or the secure point to which the workers’ fall protection system is tied off. Overhead tie-off is the gold standard for anchorage solutions, although alternatives exist for special circumstances where an overhead anchor point is impractical. In most facilities, however, overhead anchorage can be achieved in multiple ways.
Many facilities include permanent overhead anchors in situations where fall hazards are persistent and where workers may need overhead tie-off repeatedly. Permanent, fixed anchor points may be welded or clamped to the beams at various points in your facility. Some facilities have installed track systems for workers who need to access hardware or equipment at heights for repairs or maintenance. Others include permanent horizontal lifeline systems consisting of two or more anchor points connected by a cable to which workers can tie off, which allows workers to enjoy a wide range of motion while staying safely tied off at all times.
Not all facilities have permanent overhead anchorage built in, and there may be applications where temporary anchorage may be needed. Solutions for temporary anchor points include temporary beam straps or a temporary horizontal lifeline assembly. These systems generally involve installing removeable station posts that clamp to steel I-beams or which can be bolted to concrete or steel beams. These anchor points can be used as a single tie-off anchor point or as part of a temporary horizontal lifeline system.
The next component of fall protection is body wear, or the equipment each worker wears to connect to the fall protection system. For fall protection in a facility setting, usually a standard full body harness is the appropriate safety solution.
Standard full body harnesses for fall protection include a back D-ring (dorsal ring) connection. The D-ring on a properly fitting harness should fall high in the center of the back, sitting between the shoulder blades. This positioning allows the harness to keep a fallen worker upright and distributes the force of arresting a fall safely through the sturdiest parts of the body.
In addition to a back D-ring, many fall protection harnesses also include a front D-ring. These are especially handy when used on fixed or portable ladders and in other applications where climbing is common.
New OSHA regulations that became effective in 2018 require a ladder safety or personal fall protection system on all new fixed ladders of 24 feet or taller, according to OSHA. Front D-rings allow a convenient and comfortable option for connecting to ladder-based fall protection systems while allowing workers the freedom to climb up and down.
A front D-ring should be centrally positioned at your sternum or breastbone to bestow the same protections as a back D-ring.
Although each type of D-ring may look superficially alike, its intended use should not be confused. Always make sure you use the correct D-rings for fall arrest tie-off. If you’re not sure which you need, contact your harness manufacturer.
The final piece of the fall protection puzzle is the connectors you use to attach the worker’s harness to the anchor point. Typically, a self-retracting lifeline (SRL) is the best option for workers using fall protection in facilities.
When selecting the SRL model, pay attention to its listed class. Class A SRLs arrest a fall within 24”, whereas Class B SRLs arrest falls within 54”. Longer sized SRLs are most practical when the maximum free fall distance allows, such as when workers are tied off to a sufficiently high overhead anchor with enough clearance to allow the unit to arrest a fall more gently.
Also note there are special SRLs designed for working on leading edges. Leading edge SRLs accommodate foot-level tie-off when working on leading or sharp edges, which commonly occurs in construction. However, most applications in facilities do not require these specialized types of SRL units because they will be using overhead anchorage and require a standard overhead SRL.
One atypical scenario that may arise in a facility setting is using an aerial life. In these cases, the anchorage point will be inside the lift, so most often this calls for using a standard non-shock absorbing lanyard to keep workers in fall restraint, preventing them from going over the edge of the working platform rather than attempting to arrest a fall. You can then use the aerial lift to position the worker to the correct height and location for them to get the job done.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Beyond fall protection systems, you can enhance the safety of your workers by using various forms of PPE. The type you use will naturally depend on your facility, your work environment and the nature of the work you do. Facilities of many types use simple PPE such as safety glasses and ear plugs for everyday work whenever there is any potential risk to the eyes or exposure to high-decibel noise, such as around heavy machinery.
In addition to these familiar forms of PPE, many facilities encourage or require workers to wear hi-visibility vests, especially in an area where they may be working around moving machinery or fork truck traffic. Being struck by machinery or moving vehicles ranks near the top, along with falls, as the most frequent fatal workplace accidents. Hi-vis vests make it easier for machine operators to see workers who may be nearby and can prevent serious accidents.
Often workers don’t think to wear hardhats or safety helmets inside facilities because the work being done usually doesn’t involve a lot of moving around. Skipping head protection can be a dangerous mistake especially when working at heights in the area. A dropped item from a raised worksite can do serious damage to workers below. Around 1,000 workers die each year due to head injuries on the job, and 84 percent of fatal head injuries are sustained by employees not wearing head protection.
By equipping your team and your facility with the ABCs of fall protection and ensuring your crew has access to suitable PPE, you can help to ensure everyone on your team goes home safe at the end of the day.
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.