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Protection for workers at height

Published: 01st Mar 2011 in OSA Magazine

Fall Protection is vital where the risk of a fall cannot be eliminated from the working situation. Injuries involving those who work at heights are generally much more severe than other work place accidents. These types of injuries can often be life-threatening – some are fatal. It is therefore essential that foremen of crews working on rooftops and other raised surfaces be aware of these dangers.

A safe worker in an unsafe environment

There are many excellent PPE providers around the world, operating to the highest standards of production. However, we have to accept that there is one weak link in using PPE as our last line of defence –the worker.

We have all seen excellent companies provide state of the art PPE, only to fail in accident prevention due to non compliance by staff in the use of such equipment.

If you do decide to use personal protective equipment, harnesses, fall arrest, restraint or prevention, please consider the competence of the expected user in
wearing and using such PPE.

Also consider the provision of suitable quality, and sufficient numbers of anchor points for the area of work, which will allow the required range of movement.

We frequently see workers clipping on to inappropriate anchor points, risking failure of the anchor and in several cases, potential collapse of the platform they are working on.

All good PPE providers will be able to suggest suitable anchor design and/or systems and also provide training for your staff in competent use of any PPE that they provide.

Up on the roof –make it safer


In order to properly protect people working on roofs where collective fall protection measures are not reasonably practicable, roof fall protection systems
should provide continuous hands’ free attachment for workers and be designed to prevent access to fall hazards.

This enables them to move around a roof and gain access to those areas that require maintenance and inspection, without the need to consider complex
attachment techniques and be exposed to unnecessary risk. The use of single anchor points should be reserved for only very localised works, as these products offer the minimum of protection and may lead to regular detachment.

A range of comprehensive solutions include:

• Cable systems
• Rail systems
• Roof and fall arrest anchors

The design of the roof anchor is neat and unobtrusive, limiting the visual impact to the building. Roof anchors can be colour coated to match the roof finish.

Cable systems

Cable systems have been designed to complement the anchor systems for roof fall protection, taking advantage of the low system loads generated in the event of a fall. Cable systems can span up to 12m between anchors and provide continuous hands’ free access for the user of the roof fall protection system.

Some cable systems include end anchors, intermediate cable supports, variable cable supports and corner cable supports to allow maximum flexibility in roof fall protection and ensure workers have uncompromised access for all aspects of roof inspection and maintenance.

Systems are also available offering components such as 8mm wire rope made from quality 316 stainless steel, with all fabricated parts further enhanced by electro-polishing to provide strong resistance to corrosion, and a long service life for the roof fall protection system.

Rail systems

The rail product is best suited to modern building projects – in particular for roof fall protection, roof access and as an anchor point for suspended work
positioning for external façade access, inspection and maintenance.

The roof mounted rail meets the requirements of both abseil and fall protection standards and can be fixed to the roof system with minor penetrations or by using clamps.

Where roofs are pitched at more than 15 degrees, it provides a sound anchorage and roof fall protection that will not flex when a worker applies their body weight to it. This provides the worker with a good sense of security and allows them to work at height with confidence. In the event of a fall, the roof fall protection product does not deflect and distributes very low loads to the roof structure.

The system is truly hands’ free. The system is also capable of navigating corners and changes of direction in the building or structure to provide complete
design flexibility.

As well as for aesthetically sensitive projects, or inclined roofs, the rail system should be considered for small fall arrest safety installations, as loading
of the structure in the event of a fall is low due to the product’s profile and fixing arrangement, and it can be very cost effective compared to alternative solutions.

Minimal moving parts and high grade materials ensure long life expectancy, low cost of ownership and add up to a sound investment.

Some systems can be fitted to built up metal profiled roofs and standing seam roofs, and can support multiple workers for both fall arrest and fall restraint work applications.

Fall arrest and roof anchors

Fall arrest and roof anchors are available which allow installation of horizontal lifelines and single anchor points on modern, non-fragile roof structures using
minimal penetrations or in some cases no penetrations at all.

Roof anchors are available for fixing to concrete roofs, hollow concrete roofs, metal decking, plywood decking, standing seam roof systems, secret fix roof systems, built up metal profiled and composite roof systems.

Advanced technology also permits the use of thin metal roof sheets and other roofing substrates as structural anchors, by limiting the forces that are generated in the event of a fall to less than10kN through a built in energy absorber.

What is more, they can be fitted from the top of the roof saving installation costs and minimising disruption and intrusion to the building.

The reaction of the roof anchor reorientates the load to a more beneficial plane for the roof structure and distributes load through the fixings to ensure the integrity of the roof system is maintained.

Fall protection needs aren’t always obvious

Even if you’re not directly involved in construction activities, you probably do have occasions when either your staff, or contractors working on your behalf,
have to work at a height – that is: ‘work requiring them to obtain access to or egress from such place while at work where if measures were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury’.

Considerations:

• Follow the risk assessments you have carried out for work at height activities and make sure all work at height is planned, organised and carried out by
trained and competent persons

• If you can’t avoid working at heights, follow the hierarchy for managing risks, and take steps to avoid, prevent or reduce risks

1. Provide a safe place of work

• Scaffolding: a correctly designed and built scaffold should be as safe to work on as standing on the ground

• Mobile elevating work platform (MEWP): as with a scaffold, a correctly positioned and used MEWP should be as safe as working with our feet on the ground

• Suspended access platform: when correctly installed and operated, these too should be as safe as standing on the ground

2. Provide collective protection

• Safety nets: these protect all workers without the need for restrictive working lines or harnesses

• Air filled ‘fall bags’: in case someone does manage to fall from a height

3. Provide individual protection

• Safety lines and harnesses: fall prevention, using a suitable anchor point and retention line/harness

• Fall arrest: such as inertia reel equipment

• Rope access systems: using abseil techniques

4. If all the above fails use a ladder or ‘hop up’, but only if the work is low risk, of short duration and does not require both hands at any time to complete the activity

• Hop ups are a suitable and relatively safe method of gaining ‘inches’ in height, not feet

• Ladders are really to be seen as a last resort as a means of access and then only when used correctly by competent persons

Training: these suggestions will only work if all workers are trained and suitably supervised against the assessed risks and in the safe systems of work.

Health and Safety best practice advises that you choose the right work equipment and select collective measures to prevent falls (such as guardrails and working platforms) before other measures, which may only mitigate the distance and consequences of a fall (such as nets or airbags), or which may only provide personal protection from a fall.

Safety equipment taking on heights

Companies are entering the world market with even more technology designed to improve the safety of those working at height.

The appearance of shock absorbers on the market can minimise the risk of fall and injury. They should be used in conjunction with harnesses for construction workers who are working at height.

While an increasing number of contractors are using harnesses for their workforce, some are still not using shock absorbers, which would take most of the impact out of a fall.

In the event of a fall, the shock absorber extends by between 2.5 to 3m, breaking the fall and minimising the potential for injury.

One company sells around 100,000 harnesses in the Middle East market every year, but is concerned that the sales are to larger, more established companies.

The smaller companies within the sector continue to show less interest in modernising their health and safety approach.

Equipment – selection

You should select equipment that:

• Is suitable for the particular circumstances of the task, e.g. a restraint system can be used for the particular task within its design limits; e.g. there is an adequate clearance distance when using fall arrest equipment

• Meets the standard relevant to its intended use; has compatible components so the safe function of any one component is not adversely affected

You will need to make sure that people using the equipment:

• Are competent to check their equipment for defects and do this before every use

• Are suitably trained and assessed for competency in the use of their personal fall protection systems and equipment for the particular application

• Have read and understood the product information before using the equipment

• Have checked that the components in the system are compatible

Fall prevention methods summary

Horizontal lifeline systems

These should be considered your first choice to prevent falls when access to rooftops is needed. Some flexible systems are designed to operate horizontally, vertically, around corners or up and down inclines. They offer complete protection and comply with all current legislation.

Each system should be designed specifically to the site requirements, whether that be a direct fix to a solid structure, or being fixed to built-up or composite metal roof sheets, single ply membrane roof profiles, concrete roofs, lead lined roofs.

Guardrail and edge protection systems Such protection solutions require user training for safe access to be obtained and provide continuous protection to multiple users around the clock.

Vertical lifelines

Vertical fall arrest systems are configured in a range of combinations and materials, to suit specific applications. The systems range from cable, rail or track based solutions, in either galvanised or stainless steel materials.

Some fall arrest systems are designed
for use in vertical or inclined applications.

They provide safe access to structures at height, and safe ascent or descent. Where fixing positions are restricted a unique strengthening rail would be fitted.

The device operates on permanently attached rails, designed to be attached to the chest attachment rings or loops of safety harnesses. As the user moves along the rail, the device follows, requiring no manual intervention. If a fall should occur theses device lock onto the rail. The devices can be installed or removed from the rail at any point.

Such fall arrest systems can be equipped with built-in shock absorber devices made of stainless steel, reducing impact on a worker’s body to a minimum, in
the event of a fall. Cable based vertical fall arrest systems offer a cost effective, more discreet and far safer option in comparison to traditional safety systems.

Walkways

For temporary walkways to enable work at heights, non-slip flooring should be provided, avoiding the use of chequerplate where possible.

Consideration should be given to activities e.g. chemical drips or spills, or personnel working below to determine suitable flooring.

All should conform to safety regulations appropriate to the country of usage preferably minimum width 600mm. Width may be reduced to 500mm when justified by a risk assessment due to machinery, or the environment if the platform or walkway is used occasionally and the
reduction is made for only a short distance.

Headroom over work platforms is advisable to be 2100mm minimum, or 1900mm minimum if obstructed by environment or machinery, or if platform is in occasional use and this is justified by risk assessment.

Mobile man anchor

When required in a location where it’s not viable to fit guardrails, a mobile man anchor provides an easy, cost effective solution, without compromising safety.

The mobile man anchor offers a simple, cheap solution and is ideal for such jobs as surveying, remedial and maintenance work. It is easily assembled by one operative in just 90 seconds; takes one man's weight; conforms to all appropriate legislation; is suitable for use on concrete, steel cladding, asphalt, stone chippings, felt or single ply membrane and on flat or pitched roofs up to 15 degrees; allows one man quick and easy access and comes in parts for easy transportation to the installation area.

Inspection andmaintenance

To maintain proper service life and
high performance, fall protection
products – anchorage connectors,
body wear and connecting devices
– must be inspected regularly.

Cleaning

Basic care of all safety equipment will prolong the durable life of the unit and will contribute towards the performance of its vital safety function. Proper storage
and maintenance after use are as important as cleansing the equipment of dirt, corrosives or contaminants. Storage areas should be clean, dry and free of exposure to fumes or corrosive elements.

• Nylon or polyester: Remove all surface dirt with a sponge dampened in plain water. Squeeze the sponge dry.

Dip the sponge in a mild solution of water and commercial soap or detergent. Work up a thick lather with a vigorous back and forth motion, then wipe with a clean cloth. Hang freely to dry, but away from excessive heat

• Housing: Periodically clean the unit using a damp cloth and mild detergent.

Towel dry

• Drying: Equipment should dry thoroughly without close exposure to heat, steam or long periods of sunlight Inspection before use

This includes looking for frays or broken strands in lanyards, belts and lifelines, and oxidation or distortion of any metal connection devices. To properly maintain the devices, periodic cleaning is necessary.

Clean all surfaces with a mild detergent soap, and always let the equipment air dry away from excess heat. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintenance.

Inspection regime

Employers should establish a regime for the inspection of equipment that is drawn up by a competent person. The regime should include:

• The equipment to be inspected (including its unique identification)

• The frequency and type of inspection (pre-use checks, detailed, interim inspection)

• Designated competent persons to carry out the inspections

• Action to be taken on finding defective products

• Means of recording the inspections

• Training of users

• A means of monitoring the inspection regime to verify inspections are carried out accordingly

It is essential that the person carrying out any inspection is sufficiently independent and impartial to allow them to make objective decisions, and has appropriate and genuine authority to take the appropriate action.

Keeping suitable records

Apart from any legal considerations, good record keeping is essential to establish the age and conditions of use for products.

All products must therefore be marked individually to allow the history of the product to be recorded.

Products must only be marked in ways that will not cause damage or reduce their effectiveness. In particular, textile products must not be indelibly marked on load bearing areas unless it has been ascertained that the marking agent will not cause damage to the textile.

Training above all

Information and training instruction should be provided on the nature of the hazards and control measures arising from the risk assessment. Levels of supervision should be determined based on the risk assessment and other factors linked to the activity including type of work, equipment used or duration of use. Regular refresher training should be considered in order to prevent ‘skill fade’.

Author details:

Pat McLoughlin, British Safety Services British Safety Services (BSS) is an international consultancy offering advice and training on health and safety issues. Established in 1990,

BSS has gained an international reputation as a major provider of high quality safety training that gets results. The team at BSS also provides guidance on all aspects of public safety, specialising in workplace legislation and best practice.

BSS advise clients on their health and safety strategy and policy and assist in implementing procedures as required. By conducting training needs analysis,

BSS help clients identify skills gaps in their workforce and then develop and deliver bespoke training programmes to meet these gaps, to improve safety awareness and performance in the workplace.

BSS have been successfully providing these services to companies throughout the world for almost 20 years.

BSS now have offices in Qatar, Dubai, Yemen, China, Libya and Algeria. With a team of specialist staff grounded in a detailed understanding of each country’s cultural issues as well as specific industry and country safety requirements. Instructors are all qualified to NEBOSH standards and have a minimum of 15 years’ experience.

Most clients are in high risk sectors such as construction, the nuclear industry, oil and gas, together with many service industries including schools and food.

Clients include

Qatar Petroleum, Al Futtaim Carillion, Readymix Qatar, PDO, Sabic, Conoco Phillips, Canadian Nexan, Weatherford, Inpex Libya, Al Mansoori, Petro Bras and Misco Libya.

To contact BSS visit www.bssukhse.co.uk or email Pat.McLoughlin@bssukhse.com

www.osedirectory.com/health-and-safety.php

Published: 01st Mar 2011 in OSA Magazine

Author


Pat McLoughlin


British Safety Services

Linton House, Catherine Street, Aston, Birmingham, B6 5RS, UK


Pat McLoughlin

Website:
http://www.bssukhse.com

Phone:
+44(0) 121 328 8873


http://www.bssukhse.com
+44(0) 121 328 8873

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