The Closest Thing to Wings

Although the issue receives little attention in the aviation industry, fall protection has, for decades, been a major concern for workers regularly exposed to dangerous heights. According to the National Safety Council Accident Facts, in 1997, falls to...


Although the issue receives little attention in the aviation industry, fall protection has, for decades, been a major concern for workers regularly exposed to dangerous heights. According to the National Safety Council Accident Facts, in 1997, falls to lower levels were the third leading cause of fatal occupational injuries. In fact, falls are the number two overall cause of death in the American workplace, just behind employee violence. A recent OSHA study involving 99 fall-related deaths indicates that using proper fall protection equipment could have prevented nearly all of those deaths. To reduce these numbers, OSHA has mandated the installation and use of fall protection equipment where workers are exposed to hazards of falling more than six feet.

There are several OSHA regulations and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines (though ANSI is not a regulatory body) that apply to fall protection. Employers need to understand these regulations and standards when selecting the appropriate fall protection equipment. David May, OSHA Area Director for New Hampshire, says, "Employers must be aware of the hazards faced by their employees on the jobs they require them to do; and they especially must be aware that the law compels them to do everything they can to protect their workers from those hazards. Anything less is unacceptable."

Different levels of protection

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

A fall restraint system is a work positioning system designed to prevent a worker from falling from a work position. This can include such simple precautionary measures as installing guardrails, safety nets, or establishing a control zone (the area between an unguarded edge of a building or structure and a line that is set back a safe distance), or other OSHA-approved procedures. A major drawback to this type of system is that it may restrict the work area, making it impractical to perform some tasks. On a more advanced level, workers can be equipped with a fall arrest system designed to protect them in the event of a fall. These systems are put into place in order to maintain maximum mobility and efficiency.

Fall arrest may consist of body supports, lanyards, self-retracting lifelines, rope grabs, anchorage components, and horizontal fall arrest lines, either flexible or rigid, engineered to slow and stop the victim after an accident. These systems generally have five components; a full body harness reduces the impact caused by a fall by spreading pressure evenly over your thighs, chest, shoulders and pelvis; a lanyard attached to the body harness between your shoulder blades and to an anchoring point; snaphooks, connect the lanyard to your body harness; an anchorage point, the place where your lanyard is attached to a solid, unmovable object that can support up to 5,000 lbs. Even though you may weigh only 200 lbs., in a fall, that 200 lbs. can become 2,000 lbs. of force, depending on the distance and speed of the fall. The most critical element in determining an anchorage point is the swing factor, or how far the victim might swing from side to side in a fall. This pendulum effect could do some serious damage, so never anchor the lanyard to a guardrail or any other dubious anchor point. Also, equipment should be set up so that a fall is no more than 6 feet before the victim is slowed and stopped. This brings us to the final component: knowledge. Employees should be sure to know how the equipment works, and how to properly inspect all components. If something is found to be wrong with a piece of equipment, it should be replaced before the job can continue. A detailed description of these elements can be found at www.safetyinfo.com .

When compliance is an issue

Another option is a fall protection plan and essentially, it should function as a backup program. In situations where other options may not work, the employer is required to provide a training program for any employee exposed to fall hazards.
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