5 Ways to Avoid Fall Protection Equipment Fails

Fall protection equipment can save a life, but it works only when used properly. Here are some tips.

A fall-related injury is the worst nightmare of many construction workers, not to mention their managers. It’s no wonder the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken aim at falls: They’re the leading cause of construction-industry deaths.

Since the agency raised its fines by 78 percent back in August it has been routinely levying penalties in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, many related to violations of fall protection standards. At the core of OSHA's concerns is the proper use and maintenance of fall protection equipment.

Here, then, are five ways companies and workers can avoid setting themselves up for potentially deadly equipment failures.

Inspect equipment before every use

Standard practice on many jobsites is to inspect equipment once a day. But harnesses, lanyards and body belts can take a severe beating in a single use and can also be exposed to corrosive chemicals. So best practice is to train employees to check for unusual wear and tear, wear-point fatigue, broken webbing and frayed stitching or material around buckles and rings prior to strapping it on.

Adjust it properly

Employees who are required to use fall protection equipment most often use company-supplied harnesses and belts that must be adjusted for each worker. Make sure workers are shown how to adjust it. If not fitted correctly, the equipment can become almost as dangerous as the fall it's trying to prevent.

Choose appropriate anchor points

Employees should also be trained on how to identify appropriate roof, wall, window, door and other anchor points and shown how to make a safe and sturdy connection to their safety equipment.

Look out for improper use

Make sure employees aren’t using equipment in a way it was never intended to be used. For example, to avoid stretching or stressing a horizontal lifeline, workers shouldn't put their entire weight on it while working.

Note that OSHA does not allow forklifts to be used as personnel lifts with employees standing on the forks. Forklifts must be outfitted with a platform, railings and other safety equipment to be considered acceptable to carry workers.

Maintain an aggressive program of equipment supply and replacement

When it comes to fall protection,  — fall protection equipment is not the place to save money. Recognize and accept when it's time to discard protection devices and replace them.  

And forget homemade harnesses, safety cages and most other safety equipment. Make sure everything on the job meant to protect falls and other accidents is certified for use by OSHA and the American National Standard Institute (ANSI).

 

Kim Slowey