Fall Protection For The Future?

Fall Protection For The Future?

05th August 2014

With falls from a height still topping the list of the major cause of injury in the workplace, we cannot become complacent when it comes to following the correct health and safety guidelines.  The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently updated the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR 2005) which new guidance on what is legally required by both employers and employees when work at height is being carried out.  More than a million UK businesses carry out some sort of Work at Height every year and there are 10 million employees involved in these activities.  That means 10 million people at risk on an annual basis, so following the correct rules and regulations really is essential.  Safety Ladders - NIOSH

However, there is news from the United States of some rather radical measures being encouraged in order to make working at height safer than ever before.  The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has just released a new publication entitled “Preventing Falls from Height through the Design of Embedded Safety Features”. 

This publication urges building designers, safety professionals and employers in the construction industry to consider the need to protect construction workers and repair and maintenance workers from potential fall hazards in a new and improved way.  This advocates that permanent fall protection features should be integrated into buildings which should eliminate the need to less effective temporary measures when work at height is being undertaken.

NIOSH’s hierarchy of controls for fall protection is as follows:

  • Eliminate of modify the fall hazard.  This should be done by either adopting a single level building design, rather than multiple level building design or by using permanent guardrails, parapet walls and other safety features which would separate workers from fall hazards.
  • Provide a fall restraint system.  This would involve a method of securing workers via an anchor point, connector, lanyard, and body harness to prevent the worker from reaching the fall hazard.
  • Install a fall arrest system.  This would involve using anchor points, connectors, lanyards, and body harness and is designed to arrest a fall once is has begun.

Some of NIOSH’s recommendations make perfect sense:

  • During new construction, renovations or retrofits, a safety design review should be carried out to identify and consider tasks that could involve a fall hazard over the life cycle of the building/facility.
  • Permanent fall protection features should be installed during construction.
  • Commercial buildings can embed permanent equipment into steel or concrete parts of the building that can be used to set up fall protection systems.  These features could also be used to prevent falls during construction of the building as well as during building maintenance work that is carried out post-construction.
  • Existing fall protection systems should be tested by a qualified person to ensure that they are capable of withstanding intended loads.
  • Ensure that a competent person inspects and evaluates fall arrest systems for damage on a regular basis.

Architects and building designers do not always consider fall hazards during the design process and it is hoped that this publication will be the first step towards changing that.  It makes perfect sense as it is more cost effective to include these safety features into the building design rather than retro fit them at a later date.