Fall protection engineering plays a role in the construction of any commercial or industrial workplace. As falls account for 14% of fatal workplace injuries and over 20% of disabling injuries, it behooves businesses to implement measures equal to or surpassing the standards established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The failure to meet fall protection standards is the second most common OSHA violation, just behind failures in scaffolding and general requirements.
Under OSHA workplace provisions, employers have a duty to provide fall protection in any situation offering a fall hazard. The provisions require an employer to ascertain the structural integrity and strength of any surface workers will walk or work upon, implement one of several appropriate options to protect against fall hazards, and provide workers with fall protection training.
The OSHA guidelines allow for a wide range of fall protection designs, depending on potential fall heights, the work being done on the at-risk surface, and other factors. Guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, and safety nets cover most needs. Other solutions include positioning devices, safety monitoring systems, and warning line systems. Some jobsites require additional measures, typically a combination of two or more systems.
Guardrails are the most common form of fall protection, and are found in almost every workplace. OSHA standards require toprails and midrails to be thick enough to prevent cuts, be at least 42 inches tall, and be capable of withstanding 200 pounds of force in any direction.
Personal fall arrest systems work by connecting a worker to an anchor point via a body harness. Anchorages, connectors, lifelines, and deceleration systems are all held to exact standards of engineering. All parts of the system must be capable of withstanding several thousand pounds of force, and the maximum distance of a free fall, and the force exerted during a fall, must not exceed certain levels.
Similar to personal fall arrest systems, positioning device systems attach workers to an anchor point via a body belt or harness. However, positioning device systems can only allow free falls of two feet or less. Engineering standards for dee-rings, snaphooks, and other connectors remain the same as for personal fall arrest systems.
Safety Net Systems
Safety net systems, installed as close as is practical beneath a work surface up to a maximum of thirty feet, catch workers in reinforced, frequently inspected nets. These nets must be capable of holding up to 5,000 pounds, must be inspected weekly, and must have mesh openings of less than 36 square inches. They must extend out beyond the furthest point of the work surface, with the extension minimum increasing the further below the surface the net begins.
Fall protection engineering companies offer design and consultation services for implementing these measures and others. Qualified firms can produce custom solutions for any jobsite and typically have a broad understanding of many applicable safety standards, such as those of OSHA, IWCA (International Window Cleaning Association), ANSI (American National Standards Institute), and ASSE (American Society of Safety Engineers). By working with a fall protection engineering firm, employers can be certain of their compliance with all standards despite any special considerations of their jobsite.
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