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Work at height: why connecting personal and collective protection matters

Falls from height remain the No. 1 cause of occupational fatalities in the U.K. accounting for more than 25 percent of all deadly accidents [1]. Both collective protective equipment (CPE) and personal protective equipment (PPE) are key to protecting workers from falls, but are too often treated as separate entities. Here Dominique Vansteenkiste, high-risk business leader at Honeywell Industrial Safety - which brings together CPE specialist Combisafe and PPE expert Honeywell Safety Products -, offers some useful tips on how to integrate the two and enhance worker protection at height. 

 

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 require that a risk assessment should always consider how work at height can be avoided. When this is not possible, collective measures, including guardrails, working platforms or nets, should always take priority over Personal Fall Protection Equipment (PFPE) [2]. However, the very installation of CPE can put workers at risk unless appropriate safety planning is in place. One way of minimising such risk is to pre-assemble collective protective equipment such as edge protection and barriers at ground level, but this is not always possible.

 

 Working close to an edge to install CPE can be particularly hazardous, with falls from roofs representing one of the most common causes of workplace death and serious injury[3]. One of the key challenges workers are faced with is finding the right anchor point for their PFPE, generally a harness or self-retracting lifeline (SRL). For example, a common mistake is for the worker to anchor themselves to the floor, which actually increases the risk of the lanyard breaking over the edge in case of a fall.

 

For this reason, whenever workers are at risk of falling over an edge but do not have the option to use a higher anchor point, it is crucial to use SRLs - such as the Honeywell Miller TurboLiteTM Edge SRL - that are fully edge-tested and approved to be attached at ground level. Miller TurboLiteTM Edge is certified for workers weighing up to 140kg due to the use of highly durable reinforced webbing. It has a quick locking mechanism for reduced fall arrest distance, especially important when little vertical clearance is available. Miller TurboLiteTM Edge is also compliant with the BS EN 360:2002 standard, regulating personal protective equipment against falls from a height - retractable type fall arresters.

 

It’s also important to bear in mind that a new standard regulating SRLs is expected to take effect in 2018, which means that additional tests will be necessary before working on a roof with an edge. Until now, companies could use SRLs for horizontal and vertical applications, even when workers were carrying out work close to the edge of a roof. All they had to do was add a steel sling at the end of the SRL to ensure that it didn’t break on the roof edge. The new regulation, however, will enforce stricter controls.

 

Yet, arresting a fall is not the only consideration. Controlling the way in which the worker falls is just as important. For example, a wrong anchor point can expose workers to the so called ‘pendulum effect’; where unless the anchor is positioned directly overhead, a worker who falls will swing back and forth like a pendulum. This effect can cause serious injuries if they strike nearby surfaces such as a wall or protruding beam. Installing the anchor point directly above the work area using overhead fall protection systems such as the COMBISAFE SkyReach Anchor will help prevent such accidents.

 

Besides making installation of CPE safer, a comprehensive strategy that integrates collective and personal protection can also help tackle other hazards. Everyday tasks such as fitting decking for horizontal formwork or loading and unloading vehicles can also be extremely risky and require appropriate planning. Falls from vehicles are among the most common accidents involving workplace transport [4], with more than 2,000 serious injuries reported every year in the U.K. [5]. About 1-in-3 fatal accidents at work in the EU involve vehicles, with falls from vehicles being one of the main types of accident [6].

 

If work at height on vehicles cannot be avoided when performing tasks such as loading and unloading or maintenance and cleaning, the first step should always be to adopt collective solutions, including gantries and platforms [7]. Once again, compatibility with PFPE is a key consideration when selecting CPE. For example, a loading platform, or cherry picker, should always have an anchor point that is tested to withstand the worker’s weight if they fall over the guardrail. Similar accidents may occur when the platform is moving or is hit by another vehicle.

 

When workers are undertaking tasks directly on the vehicle, it is vital to choose equipment such as the COMBISAFE Loading System MkII in combination with the SkyReach Anchor. The Loading System MKII, whichincludes a weighted base, ballasted with 1500 kg of precast ballast blocks, enables workers to safely load or unload flatbed trailers and raised decks in yards or on work-sites. When positioned adjacent to a lorry bed the complete system with the SkyReach Anchor installed provides an operative with an anchor point 5.9m above ground level.

 

However, selecting the right CPE and PPE is not enough unless those using it are trained properly. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 mandate that workers need to be instructed and trained to use the work equipment competently [8]. For example, if nets are used, the net riggers must be trained in how to erect them safely by using the right PFPE. Training should always instruct workers on which PFPE to use and how to use it correctly according to the risks and the environment. It should also teach them where to attach the fall arresters on to the building structure to avoid the pendulum effect.

 

Work at height remains a risky business and adopting a more comprehensive approach to safety that fully integrates collective and personal protection is paramount. CPE should always be the first line of defence, but safety managers have a key role to play in ensuring that workers are fully aware of all the risks that work at height entails and use both PPE and CPE effectively.

 

For all your PPE needs, please visit www.honeywellsafety.com or speak to the Combisafe sales team and they will put you in touch with the relevant Honeywell Safety Products’ expert.

 

References:

1.    http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causinj/kinds-of-accident.pdf?pdf=kinds-of-accident

2.     http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/pdf/fallsqa.pdf

3.    http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg401.pdf

4.    http://www.hse.gov.uk/workplacetransport/vehicles/preventingfalls.htm

5.    http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg413.pdf

6.    https://osha.europa.eu/en/tools-and-publications/publications/e-facts/efact02.

7.    http://www.hse.gov.uk/workplacetransport/vehicles/preventingfalls.htm; http://www.hse.gov.uk/fallsfromvehicles/construction.pdf.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/pdf/fallsqa.pdf