Top 5 Ways to Reduce Fall Hazard Risk by Kevin Wilcox
Thursday, February 4th, 2016
Fall protection is a complex and challenging safety issue. But, there are five primary techniques that have demonstrated the most impact on reducing fall hazard risk in Facilities Management. While there are certainly other aspects to a successful fall protection program, employing these five principles has proven to reduce risk.
Apply Fall Hazard Risk Prevention Through Design
The Prevention through Design (PtD) concept ensures that safety measures are evaluated and implemented during the programming and design phases of a project. Although it may be easier to see fall hazards in an existing structure, it is safer and more cost effective to implement fall protection before structures or processes are built. Applying PtD has proven to decrease fall hazard risk and save money. Risk can be minimized drastically by eliminating hazards or using lower risk solutions. Costs are reduced in two ways: in applying the initial solution, and by minimizing injuries, reducing claims, and decreasing lost production time.
Perform Fall Hazard Risk Assessments (The Right Way)
Organizations often address fall hazard risk as they’re noticed or when they are identified during a job hazard analysis (JHA). While this method addresses the immediate safety risk, it doesn’t do so in a way that reduces as much risk as possible for the least cost. When organizations proactively identify fall hazards, they can implement the optimal solution without sacrificing budget and productivity. During a comprehensive fall hazard risk assessment, detailed data is gathered on all fall hazards. Using a variety of factors, the data is analyzed to determine the probability and severity presented by each hazard. Once fall hazards and the potential risks associated with them are identified, evaluated and ranked, leadership can use the information to create a validated budget, schedule and abatement strategy.
Use Less Personal Protective Equipment
Overall fall fatalities and the associated costs are increasing, despite the fact that the amount of money spent on personal protective equipment (PPE) has doubled. Clearly, having equipment is not enough to ensure safety. Organizations often see the overwhelming options and variables available in the PPE market and think that they are the only answer for protecting workers from fall hazard risk. However, PPE should always be the last choice, since there are so many opportunities for personal fall arrest systems to fail. To reduce the most risk, organizations should work toward elimination, substitution and engineering control solutions. With engineering control solutions, employees have to actively overcome barriers to put themselves at risk. On the other hand, using PPE-based solutions means you haven’t removed the workers from the hazard or the hazard from the workers.
Focus On Certified Systems—Not Just Equipment
The certification process is especially important for fall protection systems, since properly functioning systems can mean the difference between life and death. While an organization may tout that their equipment meets the latest ANSI Z359 standards, they can’t typically confirm that the whole system meets the standards. There are five primary elements to consider when certifying a fall protection system—and only one of them relates directly to the condition of the equipment. Each of the fundamentals below must be evaluated to ensure that all aspects of a given system are acceptable for use.
- Suitability of system
No matter how old a fall protection system is, its sole purpose is to save a falling worker. Changes in personnel and environments can render systems ineffective and unsafe, so it is also critical to have systems re-certified regularly.
Provide Effective Fall Protection Training
Only well-informed individuals can make the right decisions about fall protection to reduce fall hazard risk. That’s why it’s critical to ensure proper training for the people who supervise or use fall protection systems. To truly impact a safety program, training needs to include more than just instruction on regulations and equipment use. Participants need the skills and tools to solve fall protection issues before they arise, so they don’t rely on less effective, reactive approaches in the field. Because different employees have different responsibilities related to fall protection, there are various levels of fall protection training to consider.
- Awareness (staff and leadership)
- Authorized Person (users)
- Competent Person (supervisors, managers)
- Qualified Person (designers)
- Refresher Training
Regular, ongoing training will also support the other major elements of a fall protection program and increase the effectiveness of each step.
Kevin Wilcox is a principal with LJB Inc. He is a professional structural engineer and a certified safety professional with more than 20 years of experience in fall protection consulting. He holds a bachelors and a master’s degree in civil engineering and is an experienced fall protection trainer.