Over 40 years ago, there were a reported 10.9 worker injuries per every 100 workers each year. By five years ago, that number had reduced to 3.4 incidents per 100 workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has laid out mandatory personal fall arrest system requirements to help reduce these numbers even further. Employers are required to provide employees with adequate fall protection equipment, such as ladders, scaffolds, and safety gear; and requisite training such as fall arrest training or rigging certification. OSHA recommends a three step process to prevent falls in workplaces: Plan, provide, and train.
By planning ahead, employers and employees can prepare how to accomplish a job in the safest manner possible. Before starting work on a project, determine how the job will be completed, what sort of equipment will be required and what training is necessary to ensure the safety of workers. The costs of safety equipment and training and equipment should be factored into the overall cost of the job, and employers should prepare to have all necessary safety tools and supplies on hand at all times.
OSHA requirements state that employers must provide fall protection at the following heights:
- Four feet in general industry workplaces
- Five feet in ship yards
- Six feet for construction work
- Eight feet in longshoring operations
OSHA regulations aim to limit the potential distance a worker can fall to six feet because a fall from this distance or higher could result in serious injury or death. A worker without fall arrest or safety equipment could fall up to seven feet in a mere two-thirds of a second.
There are two major types of fall protection equipment: general fall arrests and personal fall arrests. A general fall arrest could be equipment like a safety net that is designed to catch people in general. If the fall distance exceeds 25 feet and temporary floors or scaffolds aren’t being used, safety nets can be installed to lessen the fall exposure.
A personal fall arrest would be tied to an individual, such as a lifeline or safety harness. When testing a fall arrest system, OSHA recommends a test weight of 295 to 305 pounds be used. For a single tie-off point intended to support one individual, an anchorage must be able to support 5,000 pounds.
Wire rope slings can also be employed to secure equipment and debris. There are several types of slings: endless, single, two, three or four leg. The sling’s load limit is determined by its socket and clip fittings, which have 75% to 100% of the rope’s breaking load. The measurements of wire rope are designated as the number of strands by the number of wires. For example, a 6 by 25 rope would have six strands and 25 individual wires.
Employers should abide by the manufacturer’s recommendations when using metallic-core wire rope slings of any grade where temperatures are to exceed 400 degrees Fahrenheit or fall below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If slings are to be employed in extreme temperatures, uncoated metal mesh slings may be a good option for their ability to withstand temperatures up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slings employed for normal service use should be inspected at least once a year. If slings are employed for severe service use, have them inspected on a monthly or quarterly basis. OSHA now requires all wire rope slings to have permanently affixed tags or labels to identify them.
To prevent falls, having the necessary equipment is only as good as the training that accompanies it. Workers need to be knowledgeable about how and when to use the equipment provided. Depending on the job, proper training could be as simple as ladder and scaffold safety. On other jobs it may be necessary to provide employees with fall protection courses or crane training to have them receive their rigging certification before beginning operations.
The level of certification needed will depend on the employee and the job requirements. For instance, the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators designates two levels of rigging certification. A level one rigging certification allows the individual to operate the crane but not determine the rigging components to be used. Level two rigging certification enables the rigger to determine the components and procedures himself.