Fall protection requires good gear, good training, and a little math

AS WE’VE PREVIOUSLY SHARED in this space, matters related to fall protection continue to top the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s annual lists of most cited violations and top serious violations.

For the longest time, falling from heights has been the leading cause of deaths in the construction industry and the second-leading cause of deaths in industry generally.

Keeping down the number of fall-related accidents, injuries, and deaths in the workplace is a function of both fall prevention and fall protection. Each of these functions — each of these efforts — is addressed to some degree or another in many of the safety training programs offered by Safety Solutions & Supply These functions are the chief topics of two programs — Fall Protection General Application Training and Fall Protection Competent Person Training.

Fall prevention is Priority One for people who work at heights, but because prevention isn’t full proof, prudent fall-protection practices and safety equipment — including fall-arrest systems — are employed.

As good and as sophisticated as personal fall-protection systems (PFPS) are today — the brands carried by our SS&S retail center are very good and highly recommended — they’re not going to be effective in the event of an accidental fall if they’re not worn well, used properly, or used under the right conditions.

A critical component of fall protection, even with the use of PFPS, is knowing the working environment and calculating fall distances and clearances. The logic is this: A PFPS really doesn’t provide any help if the person wearing the harness and using the tethers, lanyards, and anchors fails to do the math well and still hits the ground or bangs into a structure during a fall. A harness tethered to provide protection from a 16-foot fall is useless if the wearer strikes the ground 14 feet below.

In its website section titled “Fall Protection in Construction,” OSHA puts it this way: “A few basic measurements and equations can aid in evaluating if a PFAS will be sufficient to prevent workers from contacting a lower level.” This section provides information on evaluating the necessary total fall-clearance distance for PFASs and swing fall hazards for PFASs.

Total fall-clearance distance for PFAS

From OSHA: “The total fall-clearance distance is the minimum vertical distance between the worker and the lower level that is necessary to ensure the worker does not contact a lower level during a fall. The total fall clearance distance is calculated before a decision is made to use a PFAS. If the available distance is not greater than the total fall clearance distance, it is inappropriate to use the PFAS and a fall-restraint system might be used instead.”

Total fall clearance distance calculations are simple to perform, OSHA says, based on several factors, including:

  • Lanyard length;
  • The height at which the lanyard is anchored relative to where the other end attaches to the worker’s harness;
  • The distance the worker will travel as the deceleration device absorbs the energy from the fall (i.e., slows it down);
  • The worker’s height;
  • D-ring shift; and
  • A safety factor.
  • How to evaluate the swing-fall hazard

    From OSHA: “The swing fall hazard is created by the pendulum effect, which can swing a fallen worker into a nearby surface, such as a wall or protruding beam. In addition to calculating the total fall-clearance distance before beginning work on an elevated level, it is important to evaluate the swing-fall hazard at the edges where a worker might fall. A worker who falls while connected to an anchor (unless it is directly overhead) will swing back and forth like a pendulum. Workers can be seriously injured if they strike objects during a swing fall. Installing the anchorage point directly above the work area (i.e., connected to an overhead attachment point with sufficient strength) will help prevent injury.”

    A very comprehensive guide to “Measurements for Assessing Fall Hazards and Controls” is available online from OSHA. Comprehensive and OSHA-certified training in fall protection is available from Safety Solutions & Supply. Our professional trainers will teach construction and industrial workers the fundamentals of fall protection to ensure that they are competent in this safety arena before they enter a jobsite that presents fall-related risks.

    Fall Protection General Application is a customized class that adheres to the standards outlined in OSHA section 29 CFR 1926.32 and other applicable OSHA standards. This class will help workers identify hazards, select equipment, choose best between fall-protection and fall-prevention practices, perform inspections, and more.

    Additionally, SS&S offers Fall Protection Competent Person, an eight-hour class that also adheres to the standards outlined in OSHA 29 CFR 1926.32 and other standards.

    In the matter of fall protection, OSHA defines a “competent person” as a designated person with sufficient experience and/or knowledge to recognize worksite fall hazards and correct unsafe conditions. This person has the ability to shut down a worksite operation until any hazards are corrected.

    For more information about SS&S fall-protection classes or occupational safety training and consulting services in general, call 1-866-537-2262.