In 2020 alone, nearly 5,000 workers suffered fatal work-related injuries. Besides the trauma and pain that injuries can cause for employees and their families, they can also have a severe impact on a business’s bottom line.
This is why it’s so important for companies to invest in proper workplace safety systems. In businesses where employees work in places elevated from the ground, fall arrest systems are an integral part of workplace safety.
But what exactly are fall arrest systems, and how do they work?
To find out, keep reading this handy guide.
As an employer, it is a business’s responsibility to protect its employees from work-related hazards under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Falls are among the top causes of injury in industrial workplaces.
Some of the fall hazards employers must guard against include falling farther than three meters, falling into bodies of water or other liquids, and falling into operating machines.
If you have employees that routinely work at a height of three meters or higher off the ground, fall protection systems must be part of your safety precautions.
Fall Arrest Explained
There are several types of fall protection. For example, fall guarding involves gates and guardrails that keep workers from entering fall hazard areas. Meanwhile, fall restraints restrict workers to travel to safe areas on elevated surfaces.
On the other hand, fall arrest systems are there to stop falls that have already occurred.
There are two kinds of fall arrest systems: personal and general systems. Both types of fall arrest systems minimize the fall distance as much as possible and protect the person from hitting any surfaces while falling.
A good fall arrest system will reduce the amount of physical trauma caused by the fall as much as possible. It will also protect the individual from pendulum or swing falls.
All that said, fall arrest equipment should only be used in areas where other safety system options are unavailable or impossible. Even with fall arrests, falls are still dangerous. Preventing falls from happening in the first place is always the best solution.
In an ideal scenario, multiple fall protection systems should be used at the same time to ensure worker safety. But if fall prevention systems are not available or sufficient, fall arrest equipment can save lives and prevent serious injuries from falls.
Components of a Fall Arrest System
Every fall arrest system will share the same components. Here’s a breakdown of what they are.
The full-body harness is the wearable part of a fall arrest system. It holds the person up and keeps them from falling in a way that puts as little pressure on the body as possible.
A good harness will distribute the force of a fall throughout the person’s body to avoid physical trauma. It will also ensure that the person remains suspended upright until they can be safely brought back to the ground.
The anchorage point is the component responsible for holding the person up during a fall. It is usually attached to a stable structure in the environment where work is being done, like a steel beam.
The anchorage point and any structures it relies on have to be inspected regularly. Frequent evaluation is necessary to make sure they can hold the full weight of a person during a fall at any time.
The connecting device goes between the full-body harness and the anchorage point. It determines the length of a potential fall. There are two types of connecting devices: a self-retracting lifeline and a lanyard.
Lanyards are short but flexible. They’re usually made of rope or webbing straps, and they have shock-absorbing qualities that reduce the force of the fall on the body.
As the name suggests, a self-retracting lifeline automatically retracts to limit the free-fall distance after a person has fallen. This helps avoid the discomfort and potential injury of being suspended in the air for too long after a fall.
The connecting device must be anchored and attached to a person’s harness whenever they’re working at an elevated height.
Hazards to Watch For
As mentioned already, having a fall arrest system doesn’t mean falls are no longer dangerous. Even with such a system in place, a person can still be injured from a fall, especially if other hazards aren’t accounted for.
The most important hazards to be aware of after a fall are suspension trauma, bottoming out, and the pendulum effect.
Suspension trauma can occur if a worker is suspended in the air with limited movement for a significant length of time. To avoid this, a person who’s fallen with a fall arrest system should be brought down safely as soon as possible.
“Bottoming out” means a person hits the ground or another surface before their fall is stopped by the fall arrest system. To avoid this, the connecting device must be set so the total fall distance is less than the distance from the work site to any hazard.
Finally, the pendulum effect, also known as a swing fall, occurs when someone swings from side to side after having their fall stopped by a fall arrest system.
Swinging is dangerous, as it can cause the connecting device to break or the worker to hit a nearby structure. To prevent this, the anchorage point should always be positioned directly above the worker.
Upgrade Your Safety Systems With Shannahan
There’s a lot that goes into installing and maintaining proper safety systems in a workplace environment. Besides ensuring you have the right safety devices for the job, the systems need a routine inspection to guarantee safe and effective operation.
Fortunately, Shannahan Crane & Hoist can do all of this for you, and more. We’re a one-stop solution for all of your crane and hoist and fall arrest needs.
To find out how your business can benefit from some of the best equipment in the industry while keeping your employees safe, contact us today.