Before The Fall
By Jack Kohane
Falls are a major cause of injury and death in the Canadian workplace, and the vast majority of these accidents are falls from heights – even though the height may be no more than two or three metres.
By Jack Kohane
“Most of these injuries and deaths have happened because fall protection and fall arrest equipment was either missing or not used,” says Mark Elias, spokesman for the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association. “The IHSA likes to stress the importance of trying to eliminate fall hazards altogether through prevention methods and equipment, which can incorporate rental equipment.” Fall protection strategies, notes Elias from his Mississauga, Ont., office, can include moving the work location to a place where the fall hazard no longer exists (for instance, build the roof on the ground and hoist into place, or move to at least two meters from an unprotected edge). Other elimination possibilities include covering floor and roof openings, and using signs and warning barriers. “What we want is to raise awareness of the fact that falls are still a leader in workplace fatalities, especially in the construction sector,” Elias emphasizes.
In Ontario alone, according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, every year about 20 people die due to falls in workplaces. Other workers suffer critical injuries such as broken limbs, cracked ribs and head injuries. Each year there are about 17,000 lost time injuries due to falls in workplace. “Same level falls” like slips and trips account for 65 per cent of all fall-related injuries. Falls from heights that range from a few centimeters to 120 stories account for 35 per cent of fall related injuries and many of the work related deaths that occur in the province.
“As for fall protection or fall arrest system components, the brand or kind is not the important part, what is critical is that each component is CSA approved: full-body harness, lifeline, lanyard with energy absorbers and connecting devices like rope grabs,” counsels Elias.
Fall arrest systems (as distinct from fall restraint systems that keep an employee from reaching a fall point, such as the edge of a roof or the edge of an elevated working surface), are used where it is not practicable to use guardrails or travel restraint systems and the worker is exposed to a fall to a lower level. The system must be designed to prevent the worker from hitting the ground or any object or the surface below the work area.
The system is typically composed of an anchor point, connectors, a body belt or body harness and may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or suitable combinations of these. The entire system must be capable of withstanding the tremendous impact forces involved in stopping or arresting the fall. Fall arrest systems must not subject the user to a fall arrest force greater than eight kilonewtons or 815 kg. The forces increase with the fall distance due to acceleration such that a person without protection will free fall four feet in 1/2 second and 16 feet in one second, so the system should not allow the worker to fall freely more than five feet. This system must also bring a worker to a complete stop.
“We focus on the A-B-C’s of fall arrest, ” says Jeff Thorne, manager of Training and Consulting at Occupational Safety Group, headquartered in London, Ont. “These are: the anchorage or anchor connector, the body harness and the connecting devices.”
There are three main types of anchorages: permanent fixed, temporary and structural supports. Permanent fixed anchorages must be able to support 5,000 lbs per user attached. A full-body harness is an arrangement of straps designed to distribute the arresting forces of a fall mainly to the sub-pelvic area. Harnesses are designed to keep the worker upright after a fall, even if he is unconscious, until rescue can be made.
Connecting devices typically include lanyards and lifelines. A lanyard is a flexible line of rope, or strap made from synthetic material or stainless or galvanized steel that is used to secure the body harness to a deceleration device, lifeline, or anchorage connector or anchor. Lanyards or lifelines may be equipped with snap hooks, carabiners or rope grabs. Locking snap hooks and carabiners are designed with spring-loaded locking mechanisms. The snap hook cannot open unless the locking mechanism is depressed, providing an extra layer of protection against accidental opening. Carabiners lock using a twisting action to protect you. While these are in use, always double check that they are closed and remain securely closed before applying weight, or using them for fall protection.
Self-retracting lifelines are broken down into Type 1, 2 and 3 categories. Type 1 is 1.5 to three metres in working length, is lightweight and can attach to the body. Type 2 is greater than three metres working length, is too heavy to be worn on the body and must have a visible load indicator. Type 3 is the same as Type 2, except it incorporates a rescue winch into the design. These lanyards must lock when tension is applied and release when free.
“Fall-arrest products are a good fit for the rental service business,” insists Thorne. “But an individual who supplies any machine, device, tool, or equipment under any rental, leasing, or similar arrangement for use in the workplace has a responsibility to ensure the machine, device, tool, or equipment is in good condition and maintained in good condition.” Some provinces also require the supplier to give directions respecting the safe use of the machine, device, tool, or equipment. “ In other words, for rental companies that rent elevated work platforms and provide harnesses and lanyards with them, they must ensure that they are in good condition and they are CSA approved,” he continues. “Prosecutions of suppliers for occupational health and safety violations don’t happen very often, but they do happen.”
A key aspect in fall prevention is training. There are equipment suppliers and training organizations that will provide training to rental store workers who can then train customers to use the equipment properly. The Occupational Safety Group Inc. has delivered over 50,000 safety courses to more than 400,000 employees. “It’s all about workplace safety, and everyone needs to know how best to achieve it,” Thorne urges.
Workplace safety is the business of Capital Safety, a global leader in fall protection and fall arrest technologies, with North American production facilities in Mississauga and Red Wing, Minn., offering more than 20,000 available SKUs, including such top-notch brands as DBI-SALA and Protecta. “We understand complex work environments in construction, general industry, transportation, and wind energy,” says John Fuke, Capital Safety’s technical services manager for Canada. “Falls can be prevented. Workers aren’t falling because they are clumsy, careless or accident-prone. Workers are falling because of poor workplace conditions. And we often consult with rental store owners on what they can recommend to their customers in industry and consumers in terms of products made for specific jobs.”
When does it make sense to rent fall arrest equipment? It could hinge on how long the equipment is needed and if the equipment is being used for a single job. “If you only need this equipment for a ‘one time’ job, owning a particular piece of equipment can become a liability rather than an asset,” Fuke cautions. “One-off jobs are times when the rental service entrepreneur can make the case for a client to rent fall-arrest gear. Renting prevents unnecessary capital investment for your customer, and can be the crucial bridge to completing a project while other equipment is being serviced or repaired. Renting fall protection helps to spread the costs over the length of the job. This is a helpful option to point out to a customer if their cash flow is a concern.”
As for liability issues, Fuke says it is everyone’s concern. “It is important that the supplier knows the equipment, the correct usage, and stocks a trusted brand.” He urges rental service owners get the training and expertise in this category to be the go-to rental source in their community. “Train your customers on the gear, or refer them to where they can get that training to help ensure workers’ safety.”