Fall Protection Systems: Don’t Forget Your ABCDs
Being safe is the most important rule on a jobsite and OSHA cites falls as the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. Most of us are required to wear hardhats, gloves and safety glasses, and anyone working on lifts, ladders or scaffolding must wear safety equipment and understand the ABCs of Fall Protection.
ABCD stands for: Anchorage, Body Support, Connection and Descent/Rescue. This workflow and combination of safety equipment is essential for jobsite safety when working from heights. These individual components alone won’t protect a worker in case of a fall, however, together they comprise a Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS) that, when installed and used properly, will provide maximum protection.
Remembering these ABCs could be a lifesaver.
A is for Anchorage
Like all anchors, the PFAS anchorage is the last line of protection. The anchorage is critical because in case of a fall, the worker will be suspended from this point until rescue. OSHA guidelines require that PFASs are ‘capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds per employee attached.’ Therefore, the anchorage must be strong enough to withstand this level of support. It should also be located at a safe distance from obstacles in case of worker fall and suspension. Potential onsite anchorage includes: I-beams, girders or columns. There are two main types of anchors systems:
- Fixed Point Anchors – a certified anchor point to an existing overhead structure
- Mobile Point Anchors – allows for movement along beam and trolley systems
The anchorage connector is the component that the connecting device (see below) is attached to the anchor. This could be a beam anchor, cross-arm strap, choker, or other secure device. Together, the anchorage and the anchorage connector comprise the anchor points of the PFAS. Proper anchor point selection and connection is the first building block of the overall fall safety system.
B is for Body Support
The next vital part of the fall safety system is what the worker actually wears. Proper body support, wear or gear requires the use of a full body protective harness. Body belts are no longer sufficient to support a worker in case of a fall. The full body support system supports the torso and distributes force across shoulders, thighs and pelvis in case of a fall.
The full body harness has a center back fall arrest attachment that connects to the connecting devices (see below) with a D-ring, chest straps in the front, and straps that go around the upper thigh and buttocks. Proper fit is critical when selecting and wearing a body support system.
To ensure a proper fit, check that the center back D-ring is positioned in the middle back between the shoulder blades. If the D-ring is too high, it could strike the head or face of the worker during a fall. If it is worn too low and a worker falls, he or she may end up facing the ground, which can increase the potential for ‘suspension trauma.’
After any fall, suspension trauma can set in when a worker has fallen and is suspended in the harness before rescue. An ill-fitting body support harness can restrict blood flow and circulation, causing loss of consciousness. If the leg straps are not worn properly, the harness can crush the femoral arteries after a fall cutting off circulation.
Chest straps should rest in the mid-chest area and be easy to adjust. The chest strap should be fastened correctly, as it can ride up the neck in the event of a fall. Obviously, body wear cannot be too large; but it also cannot be so small that it restricts movement.
You can conduct this 5-point check to ensure proper full body harness fit:
- Check that the D-ring is positioned between the shoulder blades.
- Tug at the shoulder straps to ensure they cannot be pulled off the shoulders.
- Double check the pelvic strap under the buttocks.
- Ensure there is a four-finger space between leg strap and leg.
- Conduct a visual assessment of the harness once on (look for twisted, broken or loose straps).
One size does not fill all and it is important to ensure the right size full body harness is worn by each individual worker. A snug fit is good – enough to protect the worker and allow him or her to get the job done. Outfitting construction workers with proper body support gear is essential for their safety.
C is for Connection
Finally, the anchorage and the body support are joined together with the help of connecting devices. The connecting devices are the literal lifeline between the two other points of the fall arrest system. All connection devices work best when the anchorage point is directly overhead. There are different types of connecting devices, such as:
- Shock absorbing lanyards
- Non-shock absorbing lanyards
- Self-retracting lifelines (SRLs)
Most commonly, workers need a shock absorbing lanyard. This is normally a 6-foot line that secures the worker’s full body harness to the anchorage. These lines are flexible and absorb shock by providing deceleration distance in case of a fall. They can reduce fall arresting forces by up to 80 percent when used properly. Non-shock absorbing lanyards can be retrofit with shock absorber packs that provide shock absorbing capability.
Self-retracting lifelines allow greater mobility for the worker and activate after just two feet of a fall (shock absorbing lanyards activate after a six-foot fall arrest). Self-retracting lifelines can limit the risk of the worker hitting the ground with only two feet before activation.
All lanyards and SRLs should be hooked up properly each time they are in use and checked regularly for wear and tear on the outside webbing.
D is for Descent/Rescue
It is important to have a plan in place to rescue a worker after a fall occurs. If the worker is alert and uninjured, a Self-Rescue is possible. This method is used by 90% of fall victims. Most often, if the fall is less than 3’ the worker can climb back up to the point of origin.
If they have fallen more than 3’ a Mechanically Aided Assisted Self-Rescue may be needed. An anchored mechanical descent devise will be lowered to the worker. They will secure a snap-hook to their D-ring and a rescue team will raise or lower the worker to a safe work surface.
If the worker is unconscious, or their injuries prevent them from being able to carry out a self-rescue, then a Mechanically Aided Assisted Rescue must be performed.
Another option is an Mechanically Aided Assisted Rescue with an Aerial Lift. This method requires a qualified person to bring up an additional fall protection device to the fallen worker, attach the device to the worker, and make sure it is properly anchored to the lift. Next, detach the impacted fall arrest equipment and lower the worker to safety.
Once the fallen worker is safe, a medical inspection must be done to determine if there are any related injuries. The worker may need medical attention.
Lastly, remove the fall arrest rigging that was involved in the fall. The rig will need to be inspected and probably replaced. Best practice is to place the rig in a bag and label it with the date of the incident and return it to management.
The Right Equipment
All fall protection systems should be installed by qualified personnel and checked regularly for maximum worker safety. Components from one manufacturer should not be mixed with components from another; individual fall safety systems are designed to work together. Always evaluate site conditions while hooking up fall protection safety equipment. When inspecting fall arrest equipment look for fraying of lanyards, check the D-rings, and ensure body harness straps are intact.
Make sure your crew knows their ABCs to ensure the job gets done safely at any height.
3M/DBI-SALA has a great Rescue Plan worksheet to help you properly prepare.For more on how to properly inspect your equipment: