Falls consistently represent the number one cause of construction worker fatalities in the United States. While there are many causes of fall incidents and several prevention strategies, this article will focus predominantly on Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS).
The civil engineers at Robson Forensic have investigated hundreds of construction fall injuries over the years; the misuse, lack of use, or use of inadequate fall arrest equipment are common themes in many of these investigations.
Construction Fall Protection – Expert Article on Fall Arrest Equipment
Since its inception in the early 1970s, 29 CFR 1926 OSHA Construction Industry Regulations have generally required workers to be protected from falling at heights at or above 6 feet. This protection is accomplished on most construction projects through a combination of:
- Guardrails Systems
- Safety Net Systems
- Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS)
Our construction safety experts regularly investigate incidents involving all of these safety systems, but this article will focus predominantly on personal fall arrest systems. This article will describe the typical components of a personal fall arrest system, when fall arrest systems are required, and highlight some common themes from casework where fall arrest systems have failed to provide adequate protection.
Anatomy of a Personal Fall Arrest System
A Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS) should be viewed as a system comprised of 3 key components. Each of these must be in-place and properly used in order to provide maximum protection for the worker. The 3 components are: Full Body Harness, Connecting Devices, and Anchorage. The employer must know the types of PFAS available and decide which is most suitable for their workplace. OSHA requires that these decisions be made by a Qualified and/or Competent Person.
- Full Body Harness – The full body harness is designed to be comfortable and not inhibit a worker’s range of motion; however, should a fall occur, it must also distribute the fall forces throughout the major muscle groups of the body, with the Maximum Allowable Arresting Force = 1,800 lbs. If any type of fall has occurred while using a harness, it must be removed from service. It is important to understand that a body belt is not considered acceptable for use during fall arrest work, and therefore cannot be a substitute for a full body harness.
- Connecting Device – The connecting device can be a wire rope, synthetic rope (nylon) or web lanyard, rope grab or retractable lanyard. However, energy absorbing connecting devices (as shown in the image above) are what is recommended in the industry because they significantly reduce the forces that are generated in a fall. Similar to the full body harness, if it has been involved in any type of fall, it must be removed from service.
- Anchorage – Commonly referred to in industry as a tie-off point, the anchorage connects the PFAS to a secure point or location. There are 2 types of anchorage connectors: permanent or temporary. Either type used must be capable of supporting 5,000 lbs. per worker. When used with a Full Body Harness, the anchor connector must be attached directly to the connecting device.
Fall Protection Requirements
As previously noted, OSHA Construction Industry Regulations generally require workers to be protected from falling at heights at or above 6 feet. These requirements do vary within the construction industry depending on the nature of the work being performed. For instance, workers on scaffolds may not require protection until they are over 10 feet in height; steel erectors may not require protection until they are over 15 feet in height; and some workers on who are engaged in other specialized tasks related to steel erection may not require protection until they are more than two stories or 30 feet above a lower surface.
In any of the situations where OSHA requires workers to be protected from falling, it also requires workers to wear a full-body harness as part of their Personal Fall Arrest System. This regulation is also applicable to anyone working in a bucket truck or aerial lift.
Personal Fall Arrest System Failures
Personal Fall Arrest Systems are reliable safety devices when used properly, however our construction safety experts have investigated many fatalities and catastrophic injuries involving instances of non-use, misuse, and failed equipment. Proper explanation of each of these points could require pages of explanation, so please submit an inquiry if you have any questions on these or other construction injury scenarios.
- Equipment Usage - Personal Fall Arrest Systems can only be effective when they are actually used. In many investigations safety equipment is not used at all.
- Proper Usage - Improper use of equipment can deplete safety benefits. For instance, failing to properly secure the harness, attaching anchorage to inappropriate locations, using equipment that is either incompatible or that is not correct for that type of work being performed.
- Equipment Inspection – All 3 equipment components must be inspected prior to each use to identify rips, tear, or excessive wear. If any of the components have been involved in a fall event, then they must be removed from service.
- Training – Employees must be properly trained by a competent person on all aspects of a Personal Fall Arrest System.
- Responsibility – Employers, General Contractors, as well as the Project Owners all have a level of responsibility for construction site safety.
Construction Safety Investigations
The Construction Safety experts at Robson Forensic have worked at every level within the industry, from bricklayer on residential projects to project manager on multi-prime worksites. Our experts have done the work central to your case and can testify regarding the hazards, risks, and responsibilities in the construction industry.
Submit an inquiry or contact the author of this article to discuss your case with an expert.
Civil Engineer & Construction Safety Expert
David Gardner is a civil engineer with more than twenty-five years of professional experience. He provides investigations, reports, and testimony in matters involving construction claims and injuries. Dave’s project experience crosses various disciplines within civil engineering, including heavy highway and bridge construction, municipal engineering, compressor stations/site work for the natural gas industry, and residential/commercial building development.