The Essentials of Fall Protection

Aircraft mechanics work at varied heights above ground level. A fall from such heights, without fall protection or prevention equipment, can mean death or otherwise serious injuries.

Aircraft mechanics work at varied heights above ground level. A fall from such heights, without fall protection or prevention equipment, can mean death or otherwise serious injuries. Interestingly, some consider the use of fall protection equipment to be optional. In actuality, there are Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements in the United States for such systems. OSHA requires that workers on surfaces “with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet or more above a lower level shall be protected  from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety-net systems, or personal fall-arrest systems.” Falls can occur from any height, meaning this should be treated as a minimum requirement.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 303,800 injuries as a result of falls from height in the year 2000 alone. It is estimated that slips, trips, and falls account for 15 to 20 percent of the 300,000 disabling injuries that occur each year in the U.S workforce. These startling statistics illustrate how important it is that maintenance professionals and hangar management understand the need for fall protection systems and the correct way to utilize them. If used properly, these systems can greatly reduce the amount and severity of injuries sustained from falls.

Lack of compliance

So why is fall protection equipment going unused? In a study by Kimberly-Clark, 85 percent of safety professionals said they witnessed non-use of equipment in hazardous conditions, and user comfort is one of the main reasons why. Harnesses and equipment are often described as uncomfortable and restricting. A large amount of harnesses on the market are designed to be a one size fits most solution. This isn’t always suitable. There are many ways these issues can be addressed with the latest in fall protection equipment. A more comfortable alternative is a harness with adjustable straps along the shoulders, chest, and legs.

In addition to the lack of comfort, mechanics may feel that a system restricts their mobility and prevents them from completing a task in the timeliest manner. A harness made of a flexible material with the correct fit is a good solution.  

Some mechanics will avoid using protective equipment for the simple reason that they don’t think they are at risk of injury. Having worked as an A&P for 20 years, it may be difficult to admit that accidents still can happen. This is the wrong attitude to have when in a situation where a fatal fall is possible. When ego is put aside, there are many protection systems available.

Basics of fall protection systems

There are three main methods used in reducing the chances of damaging falls in the hangar. The first and highly recommended is fall prevention. With fall prevention, the workplace is actually modified to minimize hazards. This includes, but is not limited to, installing protective railings or using mobile work platforms. Mobile work platforms are adjustable height work stations that can be set at optimum heights. Users can find an efficient, comfortable, and safe height for their individual tasks. Dave Thomas, of Capital Safety fall protection systems, states that fall prevention is the ideal, “Usually you would want to try to create a situation where you would not need fall protection. That is what we would typically advise.” He also notes that fall prevention may not always be the realistic approach. “That is kind of difficult when you need to repair or replace a light on the top of a fuselage.”

When a fall prevention plan is not feasible, a fall restraint plan would be the next best option. A fall restraint system uses equipment to prevent a fall from height including a lanyard, anchor point, and harness. Thomas explains “Fall restraint keeps the user from reaching the edge and that is very valuable. Basically what it means is that they are a person on a leash so to speak where they just can’t get far enough out to fall.”

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