Working at an elevated position inherently increases the risk of workplace injury and death from hard-impact falls. It’s also a fact that many of these falls could have been prevented if more stringent safety measures were taken. Adding additional challenges is these workers are oftentimes wearing PPE including protective clothing.
As anyone who routinely works at heights knows, performing duties such as cutting, grinding, or hammering, among others, forces you to focus on the task at hand. That means either adequate safety measures for working at heights are already in place or your chances of falling are more probable. In an effort to increase awareness about workplace safety at heights, the following information and tips could help prevent an injury, or worse.
Falls Lead All Workplace Injuries & Fatalities
According to data compiled by the National Safety Council (NSC), more than 48,000 workers required medical treatment due to hard-impact falls from a higher level in 2016. An additional 697 tragically lost their lives when falling from a secondary height. When combined with same-level falls, the number of workplace injuries exponentially increases. These are the NSC’s findings by sector from 2016.
- Construction : 24,700 injuries, 384 deaths
- Manufacturing : 22,040 injuries, 49 deaths
- Wholesale Trade : 10,250 injuries, 21 deaths
- Retail Trade : 29,830 injuries, 29 deaths
- Transportation and Warehousing : 23,490 injuries, 46 deaths
- Professional and Business Services : 22,090 injuries, 111 deaths
- Education and Health Services : 43,660 injuries, 18 deaths
- Government : 63,350 injuries, 44 deaths
What remains particularly troubling is that many of the accidents were entirely preventable. When safety managers insist that height safety guidelines are adhered to, every environment and employee benefits.
Essential Safety Measures for Working at Heights
Considering the overwhelming number of workplace injuries and fatalities attributed to falls from heights, it stands to reason that not all of these people were new the job. The data is just too staggering to say these were unfortunate accidents by rookies. The reality of this class of accident is that it can happen to those who work up high every day, or on someone’s first day. When a perfect storm of elevation, distraction, and lack of safety measures comes together, it’s no coincidence when some get’s hurt. That being said, these are essential safety precautions for working at heights that can help keep you stay out of harm’s way.
1 : Use A Railing
Safety railings on lifts and scaffolding are absolute musts when working at heights. Despite this fact, it’s not uncommon for some of the less safety-minded in construction and other industries to bypass their use. This can be particularly true when seemingly minor tasks or touch-up work is expected to elevate a worker for a brief period. That, my friend, is how perfect storms are triangulated. If the job is worth doing, it’s worth doing once a protective rail has been put in place.
Considering that construction falls rank among the leading cause of injury and fatalities, niche jobs such as roofing require workers to remain in an elevated position for extended periods. There are now lines of rails that can accommodate just about any rooftop. These include non-penetrating rails, parapet mounted, and even products designed for metal roofs. The point is that there are a wide range of products available to improve safety. It’s up to decision-makers to have the necessary rails on-site.
2 : Calculate Your Potential Fall Distance
People who work at significant heights must recognize the simple fact that if you fall and hit the ground or a lower level, that could be your end. The impact from a 10-foot height and 50 feet are worlds apart. That’s why safety managers must insist that employees utilize rigging systems that prevent hard impacts.
In order to properly employ lanyards and safety harnesses, you have to be able to do the “fall math.” One common mistake is to measure the distance from the height to ground and set your safety rig and deceleration unit to stop you from just above impact. That may seem like common sense on the surface. It’s not.
Deceleration units, or D-rings, add distance to the fall as they are deployed. They also may not begin promptly as you descend. Some take upwards of 18 feet before they activate. There will also likely be sag-length in any harness you’re wearing, as well as the anchor setup. Simply put, safety rigging equations are complex. Be sure to do the correct right math on yours.
3 : Be Certain Your Anchor Point Can Handle the Weight
Most people did not study physics to get their current position on a construction crew or in a manufacturing plant. So, there’s no reason that the in-depth weight-to-height-ratio regarding anchor points should be something that can be done on the cellphones of everyday people.
Anchor points are the materials and devices used to hold the rigging system in place when you reach the end of your rope, so to speak. It takes the full force that stops a falling person from hitting the lower level. The most common mistake non-physicists make is thinking it should have strength equal to your body weight. But regardless of the height you fall from, it should actually be able to handle your weight plus 5,000 pounds. And if multiple people are using one anchor point, add 50,000 pounds for each person for safety’s sake.
4 : Use the Best Scaffold or Lift to Complete a Task
In terms of workplace safety, there is no one-size-fits-all equipment. Every piece of machinery, personal protective equipment, and the clothing you wear must be tailored to defend against the hazards on your job site. Manufacturers currently make a wide range of lifting machinery to ensure safety in just about any situation. This has evolved as a niche industry, and supervisors would be wise to use on the best possible machine. If your outfit does not have the specific model for a task, this machinery can be rented per diem.
In some ways, scaffolding presents similar issues. Not all scaffolding equipment is created equal, and it’s common for contractors and subcontractors to change makeups so the products they own do the job. But even seasoned supervisors sometimes overlook the common errors employees make when setting up scaffolds. These include the following.
- Lack of Training in Scaffold Construction
- Failing to Include Fall Protections such as Rails
- Not Securing Objects that Can Fall and Injure Others
- Overlooking Task-Related Conditions at Heights
It’s crucial to have the proper gear to set up scaffolding in a secure fashion.
5 : Take Ladders Seriously
The use of ladders remains one of the more dangerous ways to work at heights. There’s a certain comfort level with ladders that ought to be taken far more seriously. Everyday people often hang from one side to reach items or perform a task. This type of monkeying around has no business in the workplace or at home.
It’s in everyone’s best interest to follow some basic safety rules when on a ladder. Many of today’s products explicitly state,” Don’t Stand on This Step or Above.” It may be prudent to consider that a regulation and not a suggestion. Make certain that safety gates are functioning properly and that supervisors train every employee how to deploy an extension ladder correctly. As a boss, you cannot emphasize safety enough.
6 : Wear Proper Personal Protective Equipment
It’s important to keep in mind that hard-impact falls do not happen in a vacuum. They are often the result of a distraction or incident that causes someone to lose their footing or make a tragic misstep. Chief among these is the failure to wear personal protective equipment while working at heights.
For example, slipping on a rooftop may result from a perfect storm of things such as fatigue, sun glare, weather conditions, miscalculating the surface angle, and not having the protective footwear that delivers an enhanced grip. Lack of protective gear is a common thread that has been identified in numerous workplace accidents. Carpenters sometimes forget to wear protective eyewear. When debris or sparks blowback in their eyes, they may make a critical misstep.
Similarly, chemical splashes in plants can have a similar result as workers are dealing with pain and move in the wrong direction. These are examples of why personal protective clothing and equipment must be worn at heights.
7 : Inspect Your Personal Protective Clothing & Gear
Just as there is no one-size-fits-all lift machinery, the items you wear to defend against skin contact, noise, poor air quality, or flying debris getting in your eye, must comfortably fit and be well-suited for the specific task at hand. Take the time to make sure ventilation masks are clear, eyewear is transparent, the coveralls you put on allow you to move about freely, and protective footwear delivers a firm grip. There’s no playing Monday morning quarterback after a valued employee sustains a hard-impact because top-tier safety measures were not in place.
The increased emphasis on workplace safety has prompted agencies such as the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to implement stringent regulations regarding safety at heights. Unfortunately, the staggering number of everyday people who sustain an injury or fatality suggests that much more can be done. That’s why more and more safety managers are relying on International Enviroguard to deliver the next-generation personal protective clothing to keep people safe at any height.