Correct fall arrest solution is critical

There are many scenarios where working at height is simply unavoidable and some of the most hazardous work sees operatives working on top of an elevated surface or structure. It’s here where selecting the correct fall arrest solution is critical.

Jon Rowan, Product Line Manager at MSA Safety, explores where, when and how self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) should be deployed for vertical fall arrest protection, and looks at the features that define the most reliable, robust and best lifetime-value equipment.

Despite significant advances in risk awareness and safety technology, falls from height remain a significant cause of injury and death. According to the HSE’s figures for fatal injuries in Great Britain for 2019-20, 29 workers suffered fatal injuries as a result of falling from height – that’s just over 26% of all UK fatalities in the workplace. Over the last five years, falls from a height have accounted for 26% of all fatal accident injuries (an average of 37 fatal injuries per year). Over 60% of deaths when working at height involve falls from ladders, scaffolds, working platforms, roof edges and falling through fragile roofs.

Hierarchy of control – identifying the situation

The hierarchy of fall protection is the starting point to determine what type of approach to working at height and/or fall protection system is required – and why.

  • The preferred solution to all fall hazards is elimination.
  • Passive fall protection: Physical barriers like guardrails around unprotected edges, for example.
  • Fall restraint systems are erected in such a manner that a fall cannot occur. They use PPE to restrict the worker’s range of movement so they cannot physically travel to the fall hazard.
  • Fall arrest systems are erected in such a manner that a fall can occur, but the fall is arrested within acceptable force and clearance margins. A suitable rescue procedure would then need to be implemented.

Why self-retracting lifelines?

One of the most effective and widely used fall arrest solutions today is the Self-Retracting Lifeline (SRL). Accounting for around a fifth of the 420 million Euro fall protection market, SRLs are replacing lanyards and rope grabs as they typically last longer, retract on movement, offer faster lock on and are easier to store.

A synthetic line or metallic cable attached to the worker’s harness automatically extends and retracts from a floor or overhead anchored container unit as the worker moves. In the event of a sudden fall, the product will ‘lock on’ to arrest the force of the fall, and an energy absorption system will then limit the impact of that force on the body of the worker in the harness.

SRL systems and the working environment

One of the first factors to consider when specifying the correct SRL system is the application and environment. What are the atmospheric conditions? In a coastal location, for instance, continuous exposure to saltwater vapour poses the risk of accelerated corrosion for metal parts. Similar corrosive hazards can be present in petrochemical sites, posing potential degradation risks for SRL plastics and composites thus the use of sealed SRL casings, military-grade plastics and high-grade S4 stainless steel components that provide additional barriers against corrosion is essential.

Understanding SRL anchors

An SRL is there to provide a fall arrest point. It will always be attached to an anchor which may be in different locations:

Overhead anchor point: this is the standard way to attach an SRL – to a carabiner or point above the workspace. This approach is traditionally seen when there has been an investment in infrastructure, and the benefit is that in the case of a slip or trip, there is less distance to fall.

Foot level anchor point: a foot or deck level tie off – positioned at foot level, with the SRL attached. This is a more common approach and is in many ways easier to use as nothing needs to be lifted overhead. However, it does mean that if the worker falls, the product is at a 90-degree angle to the fall. On many sites edges of roofs and structures can be sharp, so a foot level anchor must always be tested and ‘edge rated’.

Understanding your anchor point is the first step in making an appropriate product choice – you need to consider where the anchor is, how far it is away from the working point and how far away it is from the edge. Being conscious of fall clearance is also vital – having knowledge of distance means you can allow enough space for a fall to happen in the safest way possible. Once these things are understood, you can then make an informed choice on safety equipment, such as SRLs.

Making safety a mission

For more than 105 years, MSA Safety’s mission has centred on developing protection solutions that allow employees to return home safely at the end of every working day. To optimise your investment whilst ensuring workers enjoy access to versatile, best-of-breed protection whatever the job, it always pays to scrutinise the quality and pedigree of PPE.

This feature originally appeared in Security Middle East magazine.

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