Tie or die - take the right precautions to avoid falls
Accidental falls account for eight percent of all workplace deaths and one-third of all construction industry fatalities - despite the fact that safety harnesses are an integral part of any workplace fall prevention plan.
Your company does have a fall prevention plan, right?
Any time a worker is at a height of six feet or more, a personal fall arrest system needs to be in place that includes:
- safety harnesses
- an anchorage
- other safety equipment such as lanyard, deceleration device or lifeline, in some cases.
As of January 1, 1998, OSHA prohibits the use of body belts for fall arrest.
Safety harnesses are available in a variety of styles that basically cover these functions:
- fall arrest and positioning
- tower climbing (deemed the most dangerous work according to Dept. of Labor).
Some safety harnesses are simply vests, whereas others are full-body harnesses.
Comfort is king (tied with workplace safety, naturally) when determining which of the numerous styles of safety harnesses to choose. Other features to consider are the number and placement of D-rings and the type of buckles needed for the job at hand.
Your workers are advised by OSHA to
- know the company's written fall protection plan
- participate in fall protection training at work
- use fall protection equipment whenever it is needed
- inspect fall equipment, including safety harnesses, for any wear and tear before each use
- report any damaged personal protective equipment to the company.
A potential deadly side effect of suspension in a safety harness
Workers who sustain a fall and remain suspended in their safety harnesses are at risk of a condition known as suspension trauma or orthostatic intolerance. This condition results from being immobilized too long in a safety harness while suspended after a fall. The longer the suspension, the greater the risk of unconsciousness - or, more rarely, death - due to venous pooling.
OSHA says the best way to prevent suspension trauma when using safety harnesses is to rescue workers as quickly as can be done safely. If delays are unavoidable, instruct the worker to move his/her limbs to promote circulation. Once the worker is rescued from suspension, avoid suddenly placing him/her in a horizontal position as it can lead to cardiac arrest.
Safety harnesses prevent injuries and fatalities from occupational falls, but their use needs to be managed so that they do not contribute to injury in the event of a fall.