Understanding the nuances of safety precautions in industries where work at height is commonplace is vital. This is particularly true for Fall Arrest Systems – the lifelines that can make a crucial difference in hazardous situations. In this blog post, we explore the concept of Fall Arrest Systems and its significance in ensuring worker safety.
We focus on the three primary types: safety harnesses, safety nets, and air bags. We aim to provide comprehensive knowledge about each type, allowing you to make informed decisions when dealing with tasks that involve working at height. So, whether you’re a seasoned professional in the field or a newcomer seeking to understand the basics, this guide will provide valuable insights into these essential safety systems.
Fall Arrest Systems
A Fall Arrest System is a form of personal protective equipment designed to safely stop a worker in the event of a fall from a height. These systems are typically used in construction, maintenance, and any other profession requiring workers to operate at significant heights.
Fall Arrest Systems are built to be secure and reliable and reduce the risk of serious injury during a fall. They allow workers to move freely at a height while connected to an anchoring device. In the event of a fall, the system is designed to quickly stop the descent and minimize the force of impact that the worker experiences.
These systems typically consist of a body harness worn by the worker, a lanyard, lifeline, or deceleration device that serves as the connecting element, and an anchorage point that the system is securely attached to. It’s important to note that each system component must be correctly used and in good working condition to effectively protect the worker. Regular inspections and proper training are key elements to ensure the safety and effectiveness of a Fall Arrest System.
The primary goal of a Fall Arrest System is not to prevent the fall itself but to provide a safe and controlled stop during a fall, reducing the risk of serious injury or fatality. In contrast, fall restraint systems are designed to prevent falls from occurring in the first place.
Types Of Fall Arrest Systems
The three most common types of fall arrest equipment are safety harnesses, safety nets, and airbags.
1. Safety Harnesses
Safety harnesses are pivotal components in fall arrest systems, significantly safeguarding individuals from potential harm or damage. Predominantly, a safety harness acts as a connector between a stationary object and a mobile one, thereby serving as a crucial protective mechanism during falls from significant heights. This protective gear is especially critical in industries and job sites such as construction areas and elevated work zones that involve working from heights.
Safety harnesses are worn by workers to provide a secure attachment point, designed from robust materials such as rope, cable, webbing, and various locking hardware. This secure connection forms a part of a comprehensive system designed to keep the worker safe in case of a fall, reducing the risk of severe injuries.
Using a safety harness becomes essential when conventional protection methods, such as guardrails, become impractical. Specifically, these situations may arise when there is a risk of falling 2 meters or more from an open edge. When using a safety harness, several factors need to be taken into account:
- The role of a safety harness is to limit the distance of the fall, not to prevent the fall itself. Consequently, there’s still a risk of injury due to the shock load applied when the fall is arrested. To mitigate this risk, a free fall limit of approximately 2 meters is maintained to minimize the shock loading. In addition, lanyards are often equipped with shock absorbers to lessen the impact of the shock loading.
- Workers must securely attach to a stable anchorage point before entering a potentially dangerous position. As a rule, the lanyard should always be attached above the worker whenever possible.
- Workers with specific training and demonstrated competence should attach lanyards to anchorage points and work with safety harnesses. Those utilizing safety harnesses must also be able to perform safety checks and adjust the harness before use.
To ensure the continued safety and effectiveness of a safety harness, a three-tiered inspection protocol is recommended:
- The user should conduct a pre-use check at the start of each work shift. This check involves inspecting the harness for any visible or surface defects.
- A comprehensive inspection should be conducted at least every six months. For equipment used frequently, especially in harsh environments (e.g., demolition, steel erection, scaffolding, steel masts/towers with edges), this frequency should be increased to at least every three months. The results of these detailed inspections should be formally recorded.
- An interim inspection, which is also a thorough and recorded examination, may be necessary between detailed inspections. This is especially true if the associated risk assessment has identified a risk that could result in significant deterioration, thereby affecting the safety of the lanyard before the next detailed inspection. These interim inspections’ requirements for and frequency will depend on their use. Situations that may necessitate interim inspections include arduous working environments involving paints, chemicals, or grit blasting.
Any defects found during these inspections must be promptly reported to the employer to ensure immediate action.
In conclusion, safety harnesses are critical to fall arrest systems, protecting workers from the risk of serious injuries when working at heights. However, it’s important to remember that they should only be used by trained individuals, be regularly inspected, and be maintained in good working condition for maximum safety.
2. Safety Nets
Safety nets are a pivotal element in fall protection systems, significantly in sectors where work is performed at heights, such as construction. These nets are explicitly engineered to catch workers if they fall, thus preventing them from colliding with the ground or lower levels of the construction site.
These nets are constructed using high-strength synthetic materials, capable of bearing the weight of a falling worker and absorbing the energy generated by the fall. This creates a ‘soft landing’ cushion for anyone unfortunate enough to fall from a height. They are typically placed underneath the working area to ensure maximum protection.
A common use for safety nets is to catch falling people and tools and materials that may fall from a height, thereby preventing damage or injuries. However, their correct installation is essential for their effectiveness. Aspects such as net tensioning are significant and usually handled by specialist companies. Safety nets in construction have become more prevalent since the enforcement of the Construction Regulations in 1996, which was further backed by advocacy from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Nets are commonly used in roofing and refurbishment projects. However, their application is limited in certain scenarios, such as low-level construction where there isn’t enough clearance below the net to deflect the necessary distance upon impact. Therefore, nets should be positioned so workers will not fall more than 2 meters, thus preventing them from hitting the ground or other obstructions.
In scenarios where safety nets are not feasible or practical, airbags are employed as an alternative. This is particularly common in domestic house building or where establishing anchorage points for safety harnesses is challenging. When using airbags, it is crucial to ensure that they possess adequate strength and that the air pressure is high enough to prevent a falling person from making contact with the ground. To ensure this, it is recommended to only employ reputable suppliers for airbags.
3. Air Bags
Within the framework of fall arrest systems, air bags mitigate the impact of falls, thus reducing the potential for severe injuries when working at height. These devices are particularly useful when employing safety nets or harnesses is either impractical or impossible.
Fall protection air bags are typically large inflatable structures that can be strategically placed below the work site. Constructed from robust materials and inflated to a precise pressure, these air bags are designed to absorb the shock of a fall, similar to the role of an airbag in a vehicle during a collision.
Air bags can be interconnected to create an inflated crash deck system. This system is a suitable alternative when a safety net is not feasible. It comprises interconnected air mattresses arranged beneath the work zone, making it an ideal solution for work at height indoors where using safety harnesses may not be practicable. These mattresses are linked with secure couplings and inflated on-site with an air pump. They come in various sizes to accommodate different floor area configurations. A comparable crash deck can also be composed of bean bags that are clipped together.
Upon completion of a construction project, cable-based fall arrest systems are generally suitable for continuing building maintenance work. These systems may also be utilized to construct complex roof structures, like parabolic or dome structures, where a safety net may be located more than 2 meters below the structure’s highest point.
Fall Arrest Systems are crucial safety measures designed to prevent serious injuries or fatalities in the event of a fall from height. They serve to arrest or stop a fall in progress, allowing a worker to either self-rescue or await rescue. The systems provide a critical last line of defense when working at height, especially in industries like construction or maintenance. The three primary types of Fall Arrest Systems are safety harnesses, safety nets, and air bags.
Safety harnesses are wearable devices that anchor workers to a fixed, secure point, reducing the distance and impact of a fall. Safety nets, positioned under work areas, aim to catch falling workers and objects, thereby mitigating the potential damage of a fall. Air bags are inflatable structures used when other methods are impractical, providing a soft landing to absorb the shock of a fall. Each type has its unique advantages and is employed based on the specific circumstances and requirements of the work environment.