Common Fall Protection Equipment Misuses and How to Address Them
It’s always important to provide fall protection for people working at height. OSHA requires fall protection any time someone is working four feet above the ground or higher for general industry or six feet or higher for construction. But it’s not enough just to have fall protection equipment: that equipment must be used correctly, and employees should be trained and know how to avoid common fall protection misuses.
Even if a worker is using fall protection, it is still possible to be injured in a fall event if the equipment is not used properly. Following ANSI Z359.2 and other industry standards is a great way to ensure that workers use fall protection equipment correctly to protect them from fall injuries. Here are a few of the most common ways fall protection equipment is misused and ways to address them:
- Damaged and Worn-out Equipment: Using damaged or worn-out equipment poses a serious threat to worker safety. It might seem obvious that damaged equipment is not safe to use, but even minor damage can cause major problems. Rust, corrosion, UV damage, and other common signs of wear can indicate the possibility of failure. Inspections minimize the risk of using damaged equipment, so it’s important for workers to be trained so that they can identify any possible signs of deterioration. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper inspection and storage.
- Energy-Absorbing Lanyards: It is possible to misuse energy-absorbing lanyards, also called shock-absorbing lanyards, by using them as anchorage connectors. Most fall arrest lanyards are not designed to wrap around a structure and hook to themselves, but a worker might try to use it that way if no other anchorage point is available. If the lanyard is wrapped around a structure with corners, it could wear and deteriorate enough that it would fail during a fall event. This problem can be solved with anchorage straps, which are designed to be wrapped back on themselves, providing certified anchorage points that are sufficiently strong and accessible where workers need them.
- Properly Adjusted Harness: For fall protection equipment to work effectively, workers must wear harnesses and other equipment that fit correctly. Most fall protection harnesses are designed with adjustable leg, waist, shoulder, and chest straps, which must be adjusted correctly for each user. If a harness is not fitted correctly, a worker may be ejected from the harness or sustain serious injury from a fall event even if the fall is arrested. When properly adjusted, the dorsal D-ring of the harness should rest between the worker’s shoulder blades. If the dorsal D-ring is too high, it could strike the back of the worker’s head, and if it is adjusted too low, it could leave the worker hanging in a poor position and increase the risk of suspension trauma. The chest strap should lie across the center of the user’s chest at the base of the sternum. If it is too high on the chest, it can cause a choking hazard in a event fall by putting pressure on the user’s neck.
- Rebar Snap Hooks: Rebar snap hooks, also known as pelican hooks, are used for fall protection because their large hook size and large openings make them quick and easy to use. They easily connect to many objects, so they can attach without an additional anchorage connector. However, not using an additional connector can be very dangerous. Snap hooks are only designed to be loaded in a specific way, and connecting to unapproved anchorage points could cause them to become loaded incorrectly and fail. Some organizations avoid misusing rebar snap hooks by simply prohibiting their use in their facility.
- Insufficient Anchorage Points: Snap hooks and anchorage straps can also be dangerous because the large opening can easily allow workers to connect to structures that might not be capable of bearing the force of a fall. To address this problem, employers should ensure that workers who use snap hooks and anchorage straps are provided with proper training and certified anchorage points that have sufficient strength.
- Using an Anchor Below the D-ring: Attaching to an anchor located below the D-ring on a worker’s harness can also increase the risk of failure or injury in the event of a fall. When the anchorage point is lower than the D-ring, the freefall distance increases by the height of the worker—approximately six feet. To minimize freefall distances, workers should use a six-foot freefall lanyard and connect to an anchorage point located above the dorsal D-ring. However, if there is no overhead structure to provide an anchorage point, the worker must use a 12-foot freefall lanyard that is approved for the greater freefall distance and forces. Workers should never use a six-foot freefall lanyard when anchored below the D-ring, as this can cause serious injury.
- Using the Correct SRL: Choosing the correct SRL for your application and system is vital for worker safety. For example, if a lanyard is connected below the D-ring, it is also important to consider whether that lanyard will be exposed to an edge in a fall event. Only leading edge SRLs (SRL-LE) are approved for use when a fall could expose it to an edge. SRL-LEs may help prevent damage to the SRL, such as tears or cuts, if a worker falls over an edge. It is important to know that SRL-LEs are only tested and approved to withstand contact with typical structural steel edges. Consult the manufacturer if the SRL-LE is intended for any other situation, such as concrete or sharp metal edges.
Complete fall protection systems are designed to protect workers from fall injuries, and it’s important to make sure workers have everything they need to use it effectively. By using equipment that meets OSHA and ANSI standards, protecting and maintaining equipment, proper training, and providing sufficient access to certified anchorage points, employers help make their fall protection systems as safe as possible. Avoiding these common misuses is a great way to create the most effective system possible.
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