It can be challenging to navigate the world of fall protection equipment. Between harnesses, lanyards, d-rings and others gear, how can you know the equipment workers are using will keep them safe when operating at height? One important step is selecting the right equipment and inspecting that equipment before each use to confirm it will provide an appropriate level of protection.
“Inspections ensure that all the equipment that an employee is going to be using in any task requiring fall protection is in good shape,” says Marjory Anderson, CSP. “You have to ensure it’s clean, it’s defect free and, therefore, it will be able to support any fall, thus saving the person using the equipment from death and possibly serious permanent injury.”
As you select and inspect your fall protection equipment, keep these five key points in mind.
1. Involve Your Workers
Developing an effective fall protection program is a team effort. Involving your workers helps make sure they have the equipment they need, that it fits properly, and they know how to inspect and use it.
“Get their input into what will work best for them for their jobs and have them talk to your design team when you’re putting together a fall protection system,” Anderson explains. “It does no good to install protection that employees end up not being able to use properly.”
Whether workers are operating on a rooftop, or on scaffolding, a ladder or a scissor lift, you need to consider all working situations so that precautions are in place for every scenario.
“If your design team doesn’t think of different working situations, you’re not helping your employees, you’re actually making things worse for them,” she says. “Ask workers what they do that will require the use of fall protection and how they do these tasks.”
2. Find the Right Fit
Perhaps the most important step when inspecting fall protection equipment is confirming that it fits. PPE can only work if it fits properly, and each piece of fall protection equipment has to be properly fitted to each individual worker.
“If your full body harness does not fit you properly when you go through that fall, the impact is going to have greater harm on your body,” explains Anderson. “So, you want to make sure that it fits properly when you’re doing an inspection and every time a worker puts it on.”
Anderson recommends that instead of ordering fall protection equipment from a catalog, you work with your vendors to arrange on-site fitting sessions for your employees.
3. Ensure Components Are Compatible
Like any system, a fall protection system is made up of components meant to work together to achieve an objective. That’s why you need to make sure different pieces of equipment are compatible.
“You don’t necessarily want to buy your d-rings from one vendor or manufacturer, your harness from another, your lanyards from another, then assume that everything is going to work together,” says Anderson. “Compatibility is important to ensure that everything is functioning properly as a system because that’s how they are designed by manufacturers.”
4. Check for Wear, Damage and Cleanliness
“You want to look for damage and wear, including scratches, minor corrosion, rust, dents, bulges, tears, fraying or wearing away of information on tags and equipment,” Anderson explains. “Anything like that can mean that your equipment may not provide an appropriate level of protection.”
Along with inspecting for wear or damage, Anderson recommends inspecting for any changes made to the equipment. This could include unusual markings, writing on lanyards that was not placed there by the manufacturer, out-of-service tags and other changes that could affect the usability of the equipment.
Cleanliness is also important because grit, dirt or silt can interfere with the action of the equipment, or show that it was not stored properly, which can also impact the protection factors of the equipment.
“Even something that has been sitting in a bag properly stored, never removed from the original wrapping, will still lose its usefulness over time through aging, so you want to make sure that you keep things current and in good shape,” Anderson says.
5. Provide Hands-On Training
One effective way to ensure equipment will be safe and used properly in the field is to train workers on their specific equipment and for the environments in which they will be working. It’s also important that the trainer is familiar with their work and the requirements of the equipment workers will be using.
“Vet your trainer to make sure they’re using hands-on practice as part of the training, and that they require the users to bring their own equipment and practice with that in their inspections,” Anderson explains.
She adds that trainers should understand OSHA requirements as well as those of ANSI/ASSP standards so they are up to date on the latest best practices, such as equipment testing requirements.
Anderson also encourages involving workers in developing the training program so that it reflects their work and the fall hazards they will face in the field.
“It is imperative overall for a good fall protection program that nothing is done in a vacuum,” she says. “Your employees are your best sources of information in developing policy, procedure and training, and in designing the systems.”
Listen to The Case for Safety Podcast episode featuring Marjory Anderson, CSP, to learn more about what to look for when inspecting fall protection equipment and how to develop an effective fall protection system.
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