Safety Matters: Fall Protection

March 2005

The U.S. Department of Labor lists falls as one of the leading causes of traumatic occupational death. And there were 4,900 workplace fatalities in 2002 due to unintentional injuries, according to the National Safety Council. To reduce the amount of injuries, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed regulations on fall protection equipment.

Maintenance facilities must comply with OSHA requirements listed under the Code of Federal Requirements No. 29 Parts 1910 and 1926. It's important to know the regulations and standards when selecting the appropriate fall protection equipment. They can be found on the OSHA web site,

As it is an important safety factor other fall protection regulations and standards have been developed by associations and countries other than the United States. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) safety requirements are described under ANSI Z359.1-1992. The European Council Directive is 89/686/EEC. The Australian standard is AS 1891.2. The Canadian standard is CSA Z259.2. The British Standards Institute's regulations are EN 795 and EN 353-1.

Fall protection can be divided into two categories: fall restraint and fall arrest.

Fall restraint systems are designed to protect workers from falling from a work position. Examples are guardrails, safety nets, or establishing a safety zone around a certain area. This type of system can be impractical for aircraft maintenance tasks such as working on an engine or fuselage.

Fall arrest systems include body supports, lanyards, self-retracting lifelines, rope grabs, anchorage components, and fall arrest lines that are designed to slow or stop a person from a fall. A body harness reduces the impact of a fall by spreading pressure over your whole body to reduce injury. A lanyard is attached to the body harness between your shoulder blades and to an anchoring point which can support up to 5,000 pounds.

Determining equipment needs

Before you can determine what you need in terms of equipment, you also have to know what is available and how many people will require protection. Some recent product introductions target this safety issue.

UCL Safety Systems offers an adjustable free-standing ladder access system with fall-protection that combines easy access to elevated work areas with fall protection for the duration of the work being performed. Constructed of lightweight powder-coated aluminum and zinc-plated steel, the system is easily assembled, positioned, and collapsed for storage or transportation. Each unit comes standard with two collapsible masts, each with an attachment point for the anchorage of a personal fall-arrest system (PFAS). It is available in a range of heights and wheel styles.

UCL also offers a free-standing horizontal rail fall-arrest system that combines the simplicity of a horizontal rail and trolley system with a portable support structure to provide reliable fall-protection where and when it's needed. Constructed of lightweight powder-coated aluminum and zinc-plated steel, the system is easily assembled and quickly disassembled for storage or transport. The system is ideal for work on or near sensitive products, such as aircraft, where contact with the product is undesirable. Available in a range of heights, widths and wheel styles, it can be ordered to fit your exact requirements. Each system comes standard with a single track rail and two individual man-rated rail trolleys for anchorage of a PFAS. An optional double-track is available for improved worker mobility, along the length of the entire rail. It can be moved by hand and precisely placed to provide maximum protection.

OmniMove, from Industrial Consulting GmbH, Salzgitter, Germany, is an omni-directionally mobile lift platform. The vehicle can move in any direction controlled by a wireless operator panel with joysticks. The maneuverability enables workers in maintenance facilities to position equipment more easily improving productivity and safety. The lift can be extended to a height of 26.25 feet and has a carrying capacity of 1,543 pounds.

Developing a plan

Once you have determined what equipment is needed in your operation by analyzing the tasks performed at elevated heights and acquired the appropriate items, training is the next step. Each mechanic affected should know how the equipment works, how to inspect all components, how they should be maintained, and a storage area should be allocated so items can be stored in a clean, dry area to avoid sunlight and corrosion. Training can be handled by internal experts familiar with the equipment or the manufacturers of the systems which often offer training as part of the package. And to stay familiar with equipment and usage training should occur on a fairly frequent basis as equipment may be updated and new employees hired.

And what if someone does fall and injure themselves? You should have a rescue plan in place to assist the injured party as soon as possible without any further injuries occurring. The extent of injuries should be determined and first-aid administered before trying to move the individual. Guidelines should be outlined in your fall prevention plan and someone should be designated as a safety manager or lead person to ensure that medical attention is provided if necessary and that procedures are reviewed to prevent injuries from occurring again.

With knowledge of fall protection regulations, the proper equipment, and a plan of action you and your facility can focus on aircraft maintenance and avoid serious injuries.