Lessen the fall

10 May 2021

A recent webinar, sponsored by MSA Safety, explored the dangers of working at height and how using the right protection can help ensure the safety of your employees. Health and Safety Matter’s Editor, Kelly Rose was joined by Sam Thomas, safety fall protection systems and solutions sales leader at MSA, Andy Wedgwood, product sales manager at MSA and Roy Wilders, manager of RSSS at the BSIF.

FALLS FROM height account for the majority of workplace fatalities in Great Britain and a recent webinar from Health and Safety Matters entitledEmpowering Workers and Improving Safety through Quality Fall Protection began with some sobering statistics.

The Health and Safety Executive's 2019/2020 figures show that 111 workers were killed at work and of these, 29 were from falls at height that resulted in fatal injuries. Equally, of the 65,427 non-fatal accidents at work, 8% were falls from height. Aside from work and campaigns from the government to try to reduce these numbers, innovation from manufacturers has led to better products to ensure workers arrive home at the end of their working day.

Reporting near misses

Although some people are reluctant to do so, one of the best ways to reduce accidents at work is to report near misses. Sam Thomas highlighted the importance of doing so to help achieve a comprehensive fall protection strategy. A near miss is an opportunity to see where things can go wrong and to put new measures in place which will work towards preventing an accident from happening in the future.

In many applications and scenarios fall protection equipment is essential and can save lives. 

Sam says, “In this day and age, individuals should not under any circumstances be walking and working on roofs without fall protection. It is not worth the risk.”

Working alone

Lone working – especially in a high-risk situation such as working at height – should always be avoided, but when it can't, a thorough risk assessment is vital. Sam says, “There have been significant advances in technology in recent years - such as commutation devices and automatic warning devices such as Man Down – all are readily available to aid lone working scenarios.”

The biggest concern with lone working is the risk of the worker either falling or becoming incapacitated and not being able to alert for rescue, and the rescue window can be small in some circumstances. An innovation that can assist with control measures is the MSA Personal Rescue Device (PRD), a self-rescue harness that allows the user to carry out a controlled accent through the activation of a parachute style rip-cord. It can also be remotely activated by a second party.

Low ground clearance

Low ground clearance applications can be particularly tricky when it comes to using the correct fall protection, as you need to consider the total fall distance from the anchorage point to ensure that the user does not hit the ground. The total fall distance needs to include the length of the lanyard, extension of energy absorber and the height of the person, and MSA has several solutions for this, which you can hear about on the webinar.

Having the right equipment 

Andy Wedgwood stressed that although equipment may be compliant with the CE Mark, it might not be keeping your workforce safe in every possible situation. For example, a worker and tools might have a total weight higher than the minimum required standards of the equipment being used. Andy says, “As a manufacturer we produce products that go even further than required standards, and we want to push things to be as safe as possible.”

Comfort is key

No equipment is useful if a worker is not using it at the time of a fall, and this can come down to inadequate training, uncomfortable equipment and the feeling that the user is more productive without the equipment. Andy says, “We want workers to embrace the PPE – it is needed. We spend a lot of time and effort getting the designs right and have won awards globally. We spend a lot of time trying to make our products as comfortable as possible, and for us comfort is another word for compliant.”

The safest PPE is the one that people want to wear.” says Andy Wedgwood

One size does not fit all and everyone has a different shape and gender also needs to be considered when selecting products.

Total cost of ownership

The cost of fall protection equipment needs to extend past the first year when it is purchased, and if products are being used for more than one process then maybe a bigger investment first time round is better than purchasing completely new equipment for the next job. Inspection and service costs also need to be incorporated, so getting the equipment right at the beginning will be more cost effective.

Safety equipment legislation

Roy Wilders focused on legislation, and with fines increasing, this is paramount. The BSIF sees 100s of non-compliant products come onto the market. He says, “Between March and August last year, we were involved with reporting over 350 rogue products and organisations to the market surveillance authorities – such as Health and Safety Executive and Trading Standards.”

To help combat this, the BSIF created the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme. Companies displaying the scheme's logo have signed a binding declaration that the PPE, safety equipment or services they offer meet the appropriate standards and relevant regulations.

The webinar wrapped up with a live question and answer session. Here's a taste of some of the questions.

Q: Should children be taught the dangers of working at height while they are at school?

Andy answered: We have done some work in further education, and we want them to be aware of the risk. When you are looking at smaller children, it might be more difficult from a practical point of view and is not the target market we are used to, but I think we would love to be part of that.

Q: I have a fall arrest wired system fitted to a chimney stacks that is only used by steeple jacks that inspect the stacks every two years, but there is a requirement to inspect the arrest system annually. Is there any way I can extend the inspection of the arrest system so that the inspections align?

Sam answered: It is a very common question, you install a system for a task or application that infrequently needs access but legislation states that statutory inspection needs to take place annually. You can speak to the manufacturer as some have different criteria – such as the transmission business where towers only needs to be climbed every few years and so special inspection measures are put in place. Another way they can view it, is in between the steeple jack inspections they can mothball the lifeline system or suspend the asset and put a sign on preventing use. When the steeple jack inspection comes around you can call the fall inspection expert and it can be reinstated – this is another possible way to deal with this.

Q: Most people who fall would be injured, how can they self-rescue?

Andy answered: If there is a non-working at height accident – such as a heart issue – and the person is unconscious and cannot self-rescue then the PRD has a third-party activation loop on the shoulder. The third-party can use a carbon fibre extendable rod and that reaches out to the shoulder loop. This is pulled and activated and that person is lowered to the ground.

This writeup only scratches the surface of this webinar, so I urge you to watch it on demand where you will also be able to view the slides from the three speakers.

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