OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Agency) has strict standards concerning fall protection. In general industry, anyone working more than four feet off the ground must be use fall protection equipment. In the construction industry, anyone working more than five feet off the ground must use fall protection. Fall protection equipment is critical to saving lives and preventing serious injuries.
Fall protection consists of three elements, each of which are equally important: the safety harness, the lanyard and the anchor point. If any of these elements fail or are neglected, the system fails and serious injury or death can occur. A good fall protection plan is not as simple as putting on a safety harness and going to work. Some thought and calculation are required as well as strict adherence to policy by all those involved. Obviously if we knew when we were going to fall we would be certain to wear the proper equipment at that time. Since we don't know when a fall will take place, we must be vigilant in our efforts to keep them from resulting in injury.
Fall Protection Harness
Years ago a positioning belt, which fit around a person's waist, was considered adequate fall protection. Today a full body harness is required. These harnesses fit around the person's legs, over their arms and around their body. A steel D-ring is located on the harness between the person's shoulder blades where the lanyard is attached. Should a fall take place, the person will be suspended on the lanyard with the weight absorbed by the D-ring. It is critical that the harness be worn snugly against the body without slack or play in any portion; if worn too loosely, a person can actually be thrown out of the harness.
A harness that is damaged in any way should be removed from service.
The proper length lanyard must be used with the harness. The person's height and the height of the work platform must be taken into consideration when calculating lanyard length. There should always be a three-foot safety margin when selecting the proper lanyard to use. (If a person six feet in height is working ten feet off the ground, a lanyard length of six feet would not arrest the fall in time to prevent them from striking the ground with significant force.)
While a safety harness can save your life during a fall, it has the potential to kill you after the fall. When a person is suspended in a upright position after a fall they are in very real danger. Due to the restrictions of the safety harness, blood-flow is altered and the heart of the fall victim begins to be affected. The person can pass out in as little as 5 minutes and the situation can become grave in as few as 15 minutes. This condition is known as suspension trauma and it can be fatal. For this reason, a major portion of any fall protection system must include a plan for rapid rescue. If rescue does not begin within 7 or 8 minutes of the fall, the consequences could be deadly.