A worker was removing shingles from a church roof. He was wearing a “safety harness” and had a life-line. He leaned back as he was working along the gutter, on the leading edge, and lost his balance. He fell almost 30 feet and was fatally injured. The life-line, made of nylon rope, snapped, and his harness was improperly tied off. The resulting investigation determined that his safety harness was not an appropriate personal fall arrest system and his safety line was not capable of withstanding a fall. To see the full report from NIOSH, follow this link.
Roofers have a high-hazard job. When we think about controls for this profession, we can’t tell them to not work at dangerous heights. That’s where the work is. And we can’t keep them away from leading edges. That is just part of the job. While we often say that personal protective equipment is the last line of defense when it comes to safety, for roofers, it is sometimes a necessary, life-saving control.
While not all of you may be roofers, you may be required to work above ground, and you may be required to wear a Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS). As the name implies, it is a system of components or parts that work together. It won’t prevent a fall, but it is designed to prevent you from hitting the ground, should you fall. A good way to remember the components is to think of your ABC’s.
A: Anchor. The PFAS will only be as good as the anchor or anchorage point that holds it. If your anchor is not adequate or in good condition, stop! Go no further. Every part in this system must be able to function properly for the PFAS to work. Some of the requirements of a PFAS is that it must have an arresting force of not less than 1,800 pounds and be able to support 5,000 pounds per person tied to it. The achorage must be high enough so that no one can fall more than six feet or contact any lower level. One thing to remember in attaching to an anchor, the lanyard was never intended to be doubled over onto itself. That will limit the ability of the equipment to support you during a fall!
B: Body Harness. As the name suggests, this is the harness you wear. You will want to be completely strapped in, with the straps in place, even the ones that are uncomfortably around the groin. Straps not properly in place during a fall can cause a considerable amount of damage.
C: Connectors. These are D-ring snap-hooks and lanyards. The hooks should be corrosion-resistive steel or similar metal and be capable of holding 5,000 pounds. They also should be connected to the webbing in the lanyard, and not directly to another snap-hook.
Manufacturers will provide information about how to properly set up and use the PFAS. The instructions will most likely also provide information about how to inspect your PFAS, which needs to be done carefully before each use. Chemicals, sunlight, constant use, particulates from the work being done and even, at times, use of a marker to write your name on the equipment may damage it. If it is not in good condition, take it out of service and replace it. While this system can be costly, the loss of a life because the PFAS was not in good condition during use is even more costly.
A second fall protection, fall-arresting device that failed the worker in our opening story was a life-line. If you read the full report. The roofer was using a nylon rope that was fraying and according to the report, fell apart easily. OSHA requires that a life-line, which is a piece of equipment designed to save the life of someone working on a leading edge or where other fall protection means is not practicable, be capable of a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds. They are to be made of synthetic fibers. The self-retracting lanyard, a type of life-line should automatically limit a free-fall to two feet.
Again, this vital piece of equipment should be inspected carefully before each use, and replaced if it shows any signs of wear, damage, or discoloration.
Damaged webbing. Credit: HSE.gov.uk
The suggestion for this safety topic came from John in New Hampshire. If you have safety topics you would like to see addressed in the weekly safety tip, please let us know.
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