There are some of us who are afraid of heights. Even a glance down from the third-floor terrace of the house might have us reeling. But everybody doesn’t have that luxury. There are some who need to go up to great heights of structures as part of their job. The story doesn’t end there, though. Those people not only have to go up there, but they need to work too. It is by no means a sightseeing trip up a building to admire the view. We do admire these brave men and women for the work they do up at those heights. But we also need to take into account the construction-related fatalities that occur with alarming regularity. One look at the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) figures tell a distressing story.
This post will attempt to talk about five fall protection solutions that can ensure safety when working at height.
1. Physical Barriers
Awareness and education are very important, and we will come to that. But most fatal falls from rooftops can be prevented by adequate roof edge protection. This doesn’t need very complicated fabrications or erections on the roof. It only requires guard rails all around the roof’s perimeter. Depending on the type and duration of the work, you could choose to install permanent fixtures or you could use portable options. Contractors who use such guard railings at their worksites usually have clear guidelines laid down. If there is a need for someone to go outside the rail and work, that would need specific approval, and also additional fall protection equipment. This is detailed in the next point.
2. Fall Arrest Systems
Every person who goes up to a roof or any high point to work needs to have these personal fall arrest systems. You must have already seen some common elements of these systems. Some examples are harnesses, hooks, and safety belts. Some companies try to cut back on these basic safety features to save on costs. But this is a very risky mistake. The medical or compensation costs for a fatality can far outweigh any savings that were incurred. Before buying your safety gear, though, you need to consult an expert or do some reading up yourself. Every kind of job would not need the same safety equipment. Also, the comfort or the looks of the gear are not as important as the quality. You must go for high-quality gear irrespective of its cost, looks, or even comfort.
3. Right Calculations
This is yet another reason why experts need to be consulted before you buy any safety equipment. Let us take the example of a fall protection equipment that tightens and pulls up after you have fallen a certain distance. Every part of the work area needs to be inspected very carefully. This would ensure that the fall distance is greater than the maximum distance your equipment can allow a carry. Also, while doing your calculations, the average weight of your workers is the wrong yardstick. You need to look at the maximum weight that the harness or lanyard would need to carry in case of a fall. These calculations might look very obvious as you are reading them. But a shocking number of fatalities occur because someone neglected to consider these things.
4. Regular Checks
Workplace safety is not a destination. It can never be. A smart manager or owner would always look at workplace safety as a work in progress. It is a journey, one that never ends. One example of this is a periodic checking of the workplace. This would not only include checks and rechecks of the fall protection equipment. Often a chipped or cracked roof edge causes people to slip and injure themselves. There are workplaces where spilled oil can be a grave safety risk. So, workplace safety can’t be about the one-time purchase of safety equipment. Nor can it be about a check of the workplace when someone thinks about it. There should be a daily/weekly/monthly/annual schedule of checks listed down at the beginning of every year. This schedule must be stringently followed.
5. Awareness and Training
This is something we were mentioning earlier. In matters of workplace safety, some of the errors seen are really surprising. One would think that people who have been working on construction sites for years would know better. But often, that is far from reality.
There are usually two reasons for this negligence.
- One is the sheer arrogance of ‘I’ve been doing this for 10 years, so I know what I am doing’. That is very difficult to address unless the concerned person has a ghastly accident himself and learns his lesson.
- The second reason is entirely in your hands to resolve, though. This second reason is the sheer lack of knowledge and awareness. People working on roofs for years might simply not know about the risks. They would, therefore, not know about the precautions as well. This can be addressed by periodic training sessions. The more aware the workforce is, the more everyone will talk about it at the workplace. This will make fall protection a way of life for them, rather than an activity they are forced to do.
If you would have read so far, you would have realized a simple thing. That protecting your construction workforce from fatalities due to falls is not as difficult as you think. Most of them are commonsensical. For the few that need specialized knowledge, you can always hire the services of experts to get your teams educated. Most contractors or managers either neglect workplace safety because of the low priority they give it. There are others who neglect it because they feel it might be very costly. Both reasons are very flimsy, especially in the light of the human and financial costs of an accident or fatality. This blog has attempted to get you and your teams thinking about the simple things can be done. If your teams are able to follow these rigorously, you can surely expect a reduction in fatalities.