By Dale Smith
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.”