As “safe” as today’s workplaces seem, simple slip and fall accidents still account for way too many injuries and deaths every year. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics an average of 3.3 out of every 100,000 workers will die from a slip and fall accident. And that’s not counting how may sprains, bruises and broken bones the other 99,996 workers suffer or the total cost of medical payments, OSHA fines and lost revenue due to these injuries.
“Overall, 41 percent of the accidents are slips and 11 percent are attributed to lost balance,” explained Adam Ballester, national sales manager for Rigid Lifelines. “It’s also interesting to note that the average height for a fatal fall injury is between six and ten feet.”
“I think the reason for this is typically when workers get up higher they are a lot more cautious and take more steps to prevent a fall. They want to be attached to something,” he said. “At six to ten feet or so they don’t want to be bothered with fall prevention equipment. That’s where they get into trouble.”
But you say, six feet isn’t that far to fall. Well, not distance wise anyway. But when you consider something called vertical acceleration, which is part of Newtonian physics: a little something Sir Isaac cobbled together after being bonked by an apple. Anyway even a fall from six feet can lead to a very quick and painful stop.
How? It’s all in the physics. As Sir Isaac explained it during a free fall, gravity accelerates you at 9.8 meters (32.15 feet) per second, per second. So, after two-seconds, you’re falling at 19.6 m/s (64.30 fps) and so on.
More simply put, let’s say you weigh 200 pounds and fall off a fuselage that’s 10 feet in the air. Well, in round numbers you’ll be traveling over 17 miles-per-hour when you hit the concrete. Ouch!
“At that height, you not only need fall equipment, you have to have the right fall prevention equipment,” Ballester said. “Many systems are not designed to react fast enough to stop you during a fall from those lower heights.”
While the OSHA regulations clearly require that workers must wear fall protection any time their feet are elevated above four-feet off the ground, they don’t specify exactly what kind of fall prevention equipment you have to use.
Assessing Fall Protection
The OSHA regulations require some kind of fall protection or restraint any time a worker’s feet are four-feet above the working surface. But they don’t specify what kind of protection you need. For that you need to do a fall risk assessment.
“The best way to start a risk assessment is to look at your facility and the typical types of jobs that are done at various elevations,” Kevin Duhamel, product sales manager for Gorbel explained. “Do your technicians need to be mobile to do the job or do the work in a specific area before moving around? Do they work indoors or out? Is it wet or slippery? At what heights do they work? Knowing these things is key to identifying what type of system you need.” Duhamel also stressed that to meet OSHA requirements, your company’s risk assessment has to be preformed by a ‘competent person.’
“A competent person is someone who is trained and is capable of identifying hazardous or dangerous conditions requiring personal fall arrest systems,” he said. “They are also qualified in both the application and use of related safety equipment.”
If you don’t already have a such a person on staff, Duhamel said that OSHA approved training is available through a variety of online sources. Or you could hire someone to do it for you.
“The variety and quality of the training can be broad, so be sure to look for references or opportunities for hands-on training,” he said. “Once someone has completed an approved course, they can examine your facility for potential fall hazards and create a plan.”
Following the A-B-C-Ds
While there are a lot of various models and systems, there are four basic components found in a modern Personal Fall Protection System (PFAS).
A is for Anchors: Anchors are a secure point of attachment and vary by industry, job, type of installation and the structure they are attached to. They must be able to support more than the intended load.
B is for Body Support: Body support is typically in the form of a full body harness that is specifically designed to distribute all the forces over the wearer’s upper thighs, pelvis, chest and shoulders.
C is for Connectors: Connectors are what attaches the harness to the attach point and are available in a variety of types including simple shock-absorbing lanyards to self-retracting lifelines (SRL).
D is for Descent and Rescue: These are devices that are used to lower a suspended worker to the ground after they have experienced a fall.
Ballester explained that the self-retracting lifelines are one of the more recent introductions in the fall restraint and safety industry. “It’s basically a high-tech lanyard that attaches to the anchor
point on the harness and it’s designed to automatically limit your fall distance,” he said. “Basically, it works like your seatbelt retraction system. When it senses an acceleration or fall, it automatically locks up tight.”
“The benefit of an SRL is it’s easier for the technician to wear,” Ballester said. “They won’t have lanyards any longer than they need. Since everything retracts into the unit, they only have the small restraint box on their back. It gives them some length of maneuverability, but should the worker suffer a fall, it locks up like your car’s seat belt . So even at lower heights it can make a big difference in safety.”
“When speaking of fall protection in particular, not all lanyards, self-retracting lifelines or even harnesses make sense for every application,” stated Anne Osbourn, industrial and utilities marketing manager, MSA. “The type of work to be preformed determines the correct type of fall protection to be used.”
When it comes to selecting the right fall protection equipment, one of the biggest and most serious mistakes MRO operators make is basing their equipage on cost alone.
“Often the need to save costs impedes the ability to purchase the correct fall protection system,” MSA’s aerospace specialist, Carl Cooper said. “For example, a simple single-point anchor system versus a more complex (and expensive) horizontal system limits the amount of space in which users can work.”
“A horizontal lifeline system, while possibly more costly, typically offers workers more mobility and flexibility in the work that can be accomplished, which potentially increases job efficiency,” he said.
Safe But Stuck
So you’ve slipped off the top of a G550 fuselage and your fall arrest harness has done its job. Nothing left to do but dangle there 15 feet above hangar floor and wait for someone to come and get you. If only that were the case…
“One of the little-known problems with fall arrest products is suspension trauma. It occurs when the straps of the harness cut off the blood flow from your legs,” an industry representative said. “If you hang there too long you will faint. If you’re not rescued soon, you risk death due to the brain not receiving enough oxygen.” “Most harnesses today are being designed and manufactured with pads to minimize this problem,” he added. “Another practice we recommend uses the buddy system. No one should ever work in an elevated location alone.”
“These potentially fatal problems can happen in as few as 15-minutes,” he added. “Companies are realizing that relying on the fire department to facilitate a rescue is not good enough.”
“Planning for rescue after a fall is critical. Most recently, advancements have been made towards rescue devices, particularly self-rescue devices that can be used for lone worker applications,” Osbourn said. “This technology allows for controlled descent to the ground for a user after a fall. The rescue device itself is contained within a small ‘backpack’ attached to a full body harness and is designed to be used in conjunction with a fall protection system or anchor point. It’s a great addition to a rescue plan, as it allows an employee to self-rescue, versus requiring assistance of an aided rescue by another worker.”
Training: The First Step in Fall Prevention
No matter how you measure it, when it comes to any aspect of MRO services, including preventing slip and fall accidents, the best tool you can provide your employees is consistent training.
“Training is of course, extremely important in not only selecting appropriate fall protection equipment for your application, but also for using it,” Cooper said. “ANSI (American National Safety Institute) Z359.2-2007 provides much valuable information and best practices for training using fall protection equipment.”
“Proper training is also crucial in regard to correct prevention use. It is always a challenge to ensure that all workers who may face potential fall hazards are not only initially but continually trained, so that they are prepared and comfortable in what actions to take in the event of a fall,” he added. “However, fall arrest is only part of the training; a rescue plan for fallen workers is equally critical in avoiding suspension trauma. Too many times, mistakes may be made in that rescue plans do not receive the necessary attention until it is time to actually carry one out.”
While many MROs choose to develop their own in-house training programs, there are qualified sources like MedAire, that provide specialized fall and hangar safety training and will ensure your technicians are getting the information they need to make the proper decisions should an accident occur.
“Training is important to increase awareness, understand preventative measures and understand proper use of equipment,” stated Richard Gomez, VP of Educational Services and Quality for MedAire. “Our Hangar Safety Programs include training on the most common areas where fall injuries occur; the most common injuries that occur and how to treat them; how to avoid hazards on and around walking and working surfaces; safety considerations when using ladders, scaffolding, and other raised work surfaces; and proper use of fall arrest systems.”
Gomez also said that the company’s training program covers the critical first steps needed to help the victim of a fall accident before the emergency crews arrive.
“MedAire’s training includes the recognition and management of injuries including those to the head, neck and spine,” he said. “We also include guidance for fractures, dislocations, sprains, bleeding, injuries to the chest and abdomen, as well as CPR and AED training for cardiac arrest.”
“The key to having a safe hangar environment is being prepared, which includes prevention of injury and knowing what to do should an event occur,” Gomez said. “MedAire’s aviation specific hangar safety training course is designed to focus on using the basic fundamentals of having the proper equipment and training to assist with caring for the ill or injured individual during the first 10-minutes before airport cash-fire rescue arrives. The basics of managing life threatening events such the requirement for teaching AED/CPR skills are included in all of our training courses.”