How to Inspect Your Fall Protection System Effectively
To use fall protection systems correctly, companies must follow many policies and regulations, such as a fall protection program, rescue plan, and proper training for users. Maintaining these tasks and procedures can seem overwhelming, and inspecting a fall protection system effectively is no exception. Many factors should be considered—like inspection frequency and inspectors’ qualifications. However, an effective fall protection system inspection can be completed in four simple steps.
1. Adhere to OSHA and ANSI Standards
OSHA 1910 and 1926 state that personal fall arrest systems must be inspected before each use for “wear, damage and other deterioration, and defective components shall be removed from service.” Before a repaired system is returned to active service, a competent person must inspect the system. OSHA defines a competent person as "one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in their surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them." OSHA also states that a competent person must train users how to inspect and maintain fall protection systems properly.
ANSI states that systems must be inspected by the user “before each use and, additionally, by a competent person other than the user at intervals of no more than one year.” ANSI defines a competent person as an individual designated by the employer who possesses the proper training and knowledge to identify, evaluate, and address potential fall hazards successfully. If the competent person finds damage or defects to the system, he or she should arrange for additional training. This training assures users are able to inspect the system thoroughly and effectively. ANSI requires that two separate people inspect the equipment so that inspectors have less of a chance to overlook defective or damaged equipment. ANSI Z359 outlines what people should look for when inspecting fall protection equipment:
- Absent or illegible markings
- Absence of any elements affecting the equipment form, fit, or function
- Evidence of defects in—or damage to—hardware elements.
Although following OSHA and ANSI standards is important, they were only designed to outline the minimum requirements. Providing the safest workplace possible requires companies to exceed minimum requirements.
2. Adhere to Manufacturer’s Guidelines
In addition to OSHA and ANSI standards, it’s also important to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Manufacturers should provide the information necessary to inspect a fall protection system thoroughly, such as a user manual and safety/inspection checklists. Typically, information provided by a manufacturer comes from engineers, technical specialists, field experience, and customer feedback. For this reason, the manufacturer of your fall protection system is usually the most qualified party to establish safe practices and procedures for your workers.
3. Adjust Inspection Frequency to Your Company’s Specific Requirements
Although OSHA and ANSI set requirements for inspection frequency, inspecting more often is highly encouraged. In fact, if your company can answer “yes” to any of the following questions, your fall protection system should be inspected often:
- Does your company work with any corrosive chemicals or materials?
- Does your company keep your fall protection system outdoors?
- Does your company use the fall protection system all day every day?
- Does your company transport a portable fall protection system often?
The list above is not exhaustive, but it gives companies a better idea of why frequently inspecting their fall protection systems is important. A great method of ensuring regular system inspection is to mark each system with a unique code or item number. This code will help you keep track of each system and document maintenance or repair. Don’t worry about inspecting too often. When a life is on the line, it’s impossible to over-inspect.
4. Find Help if Needed
If you feel uncomfortable inspecting a fall protection system, find someone who is. Many companies will send a certified system inspector to take a look. Again, start with the manufacturer because no one knows their system better than the company that designed and manufactured it. If your system is consistently failing inspections, you probably have the wrong system for the job. Bringing in a third party expert will help ensure that your company is using the best system for your application.
Inspecting your fall protection system effectively starts with a willingness to go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Delegating the responsibility of fall protection system inspection between multiple people reduces the risk of overlooking damage to the system. Scheduling regular thorough inspections not only increases the chances of discovering system damage, but also shows your employees that you care about their safety. A company’s priority should not be to comply with the requirements of OSHA and ANSI, but to provide the safest workplace possible.
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