Capitol Improvement: Installing Modern Fall Protection

A job of certifying the fall protection systems in place at the U.S. Capitol and other facilities managed by the Architect of the Capitol has morphed into a multi-year upgrade of those systems that is nearing completion.

CHICAGO -- The job of certifying the fall protection hardware installed on around 70 facilities managed by the Architect of the Capitol seemed quite simple when it began. But the work that began in 2006 is only now reaching the point of installing some of the improved systems, Marjory E. Anderson, CSP, a safety engineer with AOC, explained during a June 13 session at Safety 2011 here. She shared the podium with Kevin Wilcox, PE, CSP, a principal with LJB Inc. which has been AOC's contractor evaluating the systems that were in place and devising reliable protections for workers who clean windows, paint, remove snow, and perform other tasks at elevation on buildings that include the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court building, House and Senate office buildings, warehouses, and the power plant for Capitol Hill facilities.

Anderson said the project has stretched out so long because of the challenges posed by the congressional budget cycle. But on the bright side, safety is now involved in every AOC project, and fall protection is now involved in every roof replacement, for example -- neither was true before this project began, she said.

Existing fall anchorages were load tested, and one proved to be so weak that electricians could pull it out with hand tools, she said. The approach ultimately selected was to install a single system throughout the facilities on Capitol Hill and to use guardrail where appropriate, including fold-down guardrails on the Supreme Court building's roof.

Wilcox urged professionals in the audience to involve themselves in projects early and to work with architects, engineers, historians, and others to ensure safety is considered at the design stage. "Safety has to be at the table, just like all of those other guys," he said. "The Architect of the Capitol has one of the most robust fall protection programs that I've ever seen in all of my years in the business. But it wasn't always robust."

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