PROCESSWEST Magazine Online

Fall protection systems reduce construction-related falls

July 17, 2019   Don Horne

Most equipment used for thermal processing stands well over 10 feet tall and has the capacity to hold or process over 60 tons of molten metal.

During refractory installation, repair and maintenance of this large equipment, refractory professionals often find themselves raised atop platforms, scaffolding, decking and work stations. Due to the fact that refractory employees regularly work at elevated heights, it is crucial to keep them safe from fall-related injuries, as well as to ensure the job site is free of safety violations.

To accomplish this goal, it is essential to understand the hazards of falls and know the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules.

According to OSHA, in 2017, almost 42 per cent of all construction worker related deaths were attributed to falls. Thousands more were injured. Fall Protection infractions (OSHA 29 CFR 1926.501) also topped OSHA’s 2018 list of the Top 10 Safety Violations for the eighth consecutive year.

Incidents involving falls frequently involve a variety of factors, however, a common thread running through most is the absence of fall protection equipment. Even if you’re Nik Wallenda, the high wire aerialist of the famed Flying Wallendas family, OSHA requires protection when working on refractories at heights of six feet above a lower level:

  • Handrails, Guardrails and Toe-boards: serve as barriers between the employee and an open edge. Midrails or screens need to be installed between the top of the guardrail and the walking or working surface to prevent falls.
  • Personal Fall Arrest Systems: provide employees with an individual form of fall protection. For example, a body harness connected to a lanyard or retractable line secured to a fixed anchor. These types of systems are designed to go into action before contact with any lower level.
  • Personal Fall Restraint Systems: prevent employees from reaching the edge where a fall hazard is likely to occur. It tethers a worker in a manner that will not allow a fall of any distance. This system is comprised of a body belt or body harness, an anchorage, connectors, and other necessary equipment.

As a second line of defense or where fall prevention systems are not practical, for instance roof work, a warning line system consisting of ropes, wires, or chains is an approved solution if it is at least 6 feet from open edges around all sides of the work area. Fixed barriers can also be installed to prevent employee access to dangerous areas.

To address any hazardous areas that may have floor openings, colour-coded covers should be used and marked with the word “Hole”. Covers should be secured tight to prevent workers from falling through floors or elevated areas.

OSHA clearly states employer requirements. OSHA mandates employers train workers on how to use personal fall protection equipment and how to work in hazardous situations. Employers must also assess the workplace to determine if walking or working surfaces have the necessary strength and structural integrity to safely support workers.

Before any work begins, conduct a hazard assessment to develop a comprehensive fall protection plan, to manage hazards and focus employee attention on prevention. Falls cause deaths and numerous serious injuries each year, many of which are preventable. Maintain the highest safety standards on your job site by installing or using fall protection systems – not all of us can be as sure footed as Nik Wallenda.

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