If workers will be exposed to fall hazards that you can't eliminate, you'll need to prevent falls from occurring or ensure that if workers do fall, they aren't injured. A fall-protection system is designed to prevent or arrest falls.
There are seven general fall-protection systems:
The following methods may also be appropriate for preventing falls:
As we mentioned earlier, wherever possible, you need design your work so it eliminates fall hazards. In many situations, you won't be able to eliminate fall hazards. Make sure you identify hazards that you can't eliminate and evaluate each one. The evaluation will help you determine appropriate fall-protection systems for your work site. The first thing to consider is the fall distance from the walking-working surface to the next lower level. Once this has been determined, consider the following:
A personal fall-arrest system consists of an anchorage, connectors, and a full-body harness that work together to stop a fall and to minimize the arrest force. Other parts of the system may include a lanyard, a deceleration device, and a lifeline.
Body harnesses are designed to minimize stress forces on an employee's body in the event of a fall, while providing sufficient freedom of movement to allow work to be performed. Harnesses, and components must be used only for employee protection (as part of a personal fall arrest system) and not to hoist materials.
Keep the following in mind:
As of January 1, 1998, body belts are not acceptable as part of a personal fall arrest system (PFAS), because they impose a danger of internal injuries when stopping a fall. However, body belts may be used as a means for attaching to other components such as a lanyard used with positioning systems, travel restraint systems, or ladder safety systems.
An anchorage is a secure point of attachment for lifelines, lanyards, or deceleration devices. An anchorage for a personal fall-arrest system must support at least 5,000 pounds or be designed and installed under the supervision of a qualified person as part of a complete personal fall protection system that maintains a safety factor of at least two.
Anchorage strength is critical, but is not the only factor to consider. Also important:
A lanyard is a specially designed flexible line that has a snap hook at each end. One snap hook connects to the body harness and the other connects to an anchorage or a lifeline. Lanyards must have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds. They come in a variety of designs, including self-retracting types that make moving easier and shock-absorbing types that reduce fall-arrest forces. Don't combine lanyards to increase length or knot them to make them shorter.
Deceleration devices protect workers from the impact of a fall and include shock-absorbing lanyards, self-retracting lifelines or lanyards, and rope grabs.
A shock absorber reduces the impact on a worker during fall arrest by extending up to 3.5 feet to absorb the arrest force. OSHA rules limit the arrest force to 1,800 pounds but a shock-absorbing lanyard can reduce the force even more - to about 900 pounds.
Because a shock-absorbing lanyard extends up to 3.5 feet, it's critical that the lanyard stops the worker before the next lower level. Allow about 20 vertical feet between the worker's anchorage point and the level below the working surface. Always estimate the total distance of a possible fall before using a shock-absorbing lanyard.
Example: Lanyard length (6 feet) + deceleration distance (3.5 feet) + worker's height (6 feet) + safety margin (3 feet) = 18.5 vertical feet from anchorage to lower level.
Never use a shock-absorbing lanyard if the shock absorber is even partially extended or if the lanyard has arrested a fall.
Self-retracting lanyards and lifelines offer more freedom to move than shock-absorbing lanyards. Each has a drum-wound line that unwinds and retracts as the worker moves. If the worker falls, the drum immediately locks, which reduces free-fall distance to about 2 feet - if the anchorage point is directly above the worker. Some self-retracting lanyards will reduce free-fall distance to less than one foot. Self-retracting lanyards are available in lengths up to 20 feet. Self-retracting lifelines, which offer more freedom, are available in lengths up to 250 feet.
Swing distance. If you use a self-retracting lanyard or lifeline, work below the anchorage to avoid a swing fall. The farther you move away from the anchorage, the farther you will fall and the greater your risk of swinging back into a hard object. Swing falls are hazardous because you can hit an object or a lower level during the pendulum motion.
A rope grab allows a worker to move up a vertical lifeline but automatically engages and locks on the lifeline if the worker falls. When using a rope grab, keep the following in mind:
A lifeline is a cable or rope that connects to a body harness, lanyard, or deceleration device, and at least one anchorage. There are two types of lifelines. (Vertical and Horizontal)
Vertical lifeline: A vertical lifeline is attached to an overhead anchorage and must be connected directly to a worker's full-body harness, lanyard, retractable device, or rope grab; it must have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds.
When a worker needs to move horizontally, however; a vertical lifeline can be hazardous due to the potential for a swing fall - the pendulum motion that results when the worker swings back under the anchor point. A swing fall increases a worker's risk of striking an object or a lower level during the pendulum motion.
Horizontal lifeline: Unlike a vertical lifeline, the horizontal lifeline stretches between two anchorages. When you connect a lanyard or rope grab to the horizontal lifeline, you can move about freely, thus reducing the risk of a swing fall. However, horizontal lifelines are subject to much greater loads than vertical lifelines.
If they're not installed correctly, horizontal lifelines can fail at the anchorage points. For this reason, horizontal lifelines must be designed, installed, and used under the supervision of a qualified person.
Example: When the sag angle is 15 degrees, the force on the lifeline and anchorages subjected to a load is about 2:1. However, if you decrease the sag angle to 5 degrees, the force increases to about 6:1. To reduce loads on a horizontal lifeline, increase the sag angle or connect to the lifeline with a shock-absorbing lanyard.
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