Fall Protection for Scaffolding and Platforms
Choose the right fall protection equipment for the job
By Craig Firl
Masonry construction goes back centuries: Think Egyptian pyramids, Greek theatres and Roman arenas. Luckily, more technologically advanced methods to get bricks and blocks in place exist today than in ages past, among them scaffolding and mobile platforms. Whether constructing a brick home or restoring a section of block on the eighth floor of an office building, scaffolding and mobile platforms help get the job done, but they also add the risk of a fall from heights that can lead to serious injury or death.
ScaffoldingScaffolding is not a permanent structure. Workers are at serious risk when working at heights on both suspended scaffolding and scaffolding built from the ground up. OSHA standard 1926.451(g)(1) establishes 10 feet as the typical threshold height above which some form of fall protection is required when working on scaffolding in the construction industry. Each employee on a scaffold 10 feet or more above the lower level must be protected from falling to that lower level. It is also important to note that OSHA standard 1926.451(g)(2) requires employers to “provide fall protection for employees erecting or dismantling supported scaffolds where the installation and use of such protection is feasible and does not create a greater hazard.”
On most types of scaffolding, a personal fall arrest system is required if it is 10 or more feet above a lower level. A personal fall arrest system includes a harness, connector and anchor.
OSHA standard 1926.451(g)(3) requires personal fall arrest systems used on scaffolds to be attached by a lanyard to a vertical lifeline, horizontal lifeline or scaffold structural member. The standard also states that “vertical lifelines shall not be used when overhead components, such as overhead protection or additional platform levels, are part of a single-point or two-point adjustable suspension scaffold.”
Vertical lines, independent support lines and suspension ropes cannot be attached to each other, to the same anchorage point, or to the same point on the scaffold or personal fall arrest system as stated in OSHA standard 1926.451(g)(3)(iv).
Because scaffolding is a temporary structure, employers need to be extremely cautious about the integrity and strength of the structure before attaching fall protection equipment to it. Employers need to check if the scaffolding manufacturer allows fall protection to be connected to the scaffolding itself or not. If not, fall protection must be connected to a point above or adjacent to the worker, such as a permanent wall. If the anchorage point can be on the scaffolding itself, the anchorage point typically is above or adjacent to the worker.
Scissor Lifts, Bucket Trucks and Aerial LiftsScissor lifts, bucket trucks and aerial lifts each have their own fall protection requirements, as do the manufacturers of such mobile work platforms. Always review the owner’s manual or check with the manufacturer to determine the strength of the anchors in each type of lift.
Although fall protection is not mandated on a scissor lift, many employers require their workers to wear fall protection equipment. When working on scissor lifts, guardrails must be on all sides with chains on the ends to secure the entire perimeter of the platform. Fall hazards exist if a user disobeys safe usage guidelines, such as by climbing on the guardrails. A standard fall protection system is appropriate – a harness, energy-absorbing lanyard and anchor. If an anchor is not built into the lift, add an appropriate anchor plate for an acceptable connection point. The anchor is typically bolted into the floor and must be rated for 5,000 pounds or have a safety factor of at least two. The lift manufacturers can help provide information on attaching a fall arrest system to the unit.
In bucket trucks and aerial lifts, fall arrest or fall restraint systems must be used. Compliance with OSHA standard 1926.453(b)(2)(v) is intended to protect workers from being bounced out of the lift or allowed to lean over the basket, which increases the risk of a fall.
Fall arrest systems are common in aerial lifts. The anchor point on the lift is typically in the bucket or on the boom. Consult the lift manufacturer if you are unsure. Restraint lanyards must be short enough so that a worker cannot climb out or be ejected from the bucket if the truck is impacted.
Choosing the Right Fall Protection Equipment
Anchorage connectors are a vital part of any fall protection system. They need to be tested to ensure they are strong enough to withstand the tremendous forces generated by a fall. The most critical consideration in selecting an appropriate anchorage is where the worker will tie-off. If you are able to connect directly to the scaffolding, a scaffold choker anchor is an appropriate solution. This type of anchor wraps around the scaffold support and features a compatible D-ring to connect the lanyard. As mentioned above, if you cannot connect directly to the scaffolding, a permanent or temporary anchor can be used on a permanent structure that allows the anchorage point to be above or adjacent to the worker.
On mobile platforms, employers need to decide whether the worker will connect to an anchor inside the bucket or basket, or on the boom arm. Based on this selection, it is quite simple to determine whether a permanent or temporary anchor is desired. Anchors that connect inside a bucket or basket are permanent options, while anchors that connect to the boom arm are usually temporary.
A full body harness is designed to distribute fall arrest forces to the upper thighs, pelvis, chest and shoulders. A harness should be selected based on the application and environment in which it will be used. Consider the worker’s comfort and time spent working in the harness. A comfortable harness has adjustment points on the legs, waist, chest and shoulders, as well as padding and lining to help increase the comfort level. A harness featuring breathable lining that wicks moisture away from the body helps workers stay dry and comfortable in hot or cold weather.
When it comes to connecting the anchorage and harness, there are two main connector options: lanyards and self retracting lifelines (SRLs). SRLs should be used if a worker requires more mobility. When less mobility is needed, a lanyard can be used. Lanyards are a fixed length with a connector at each end to connect the anchorage to the body support. Factors that should be considered in your selection process are: webbing, cable, shock absorber type, length and compatibility with the anchor point.
Lanyards must contain an energy absorbing unit that will limit the fall arrest forces exerted on the body in the event of a fall. Standard lanyard length is six feet, making it long enough to be user-friendly while minimizing the free-fall distance. Lanyards are now made with large throat hooks that are big enough to connect directly to the scaffold railing, thereby eliminating the need for a separate anchorage connector such as a scaffold choker. This is a convenient option if you are able to connect directly to a scaffolding structural member.
An SRL is a flexible lifeline attached to a mechanism that allows it to extend and retract under slight tension when a user moves away from and towards the device. When selecting an SRL consider the lifeline type, length, single or twin leg, housing/casing and basic features, like an impact indicator.
Scaffolding and mobile platforms allow masonry construction to be taken to new heights, but employers must be sure these temporary platforms are secure and that all relevant fall protection standards and regulations are followed appropriately. Employers must also ensure that workers are properly trained on how to wear, use and inspect their fall protection equipment to keep productivity high and safety top-of-mind.
About the Author
Craig Firl is North American technical manager for Capital Safety. He has worked in the fall protection equipment industry for more than 20 years and has extensive experience in inspection, servicing and training.