If you’ve worked on jobsites for any length of time, you have more than likely seen someone fall off of scaffold, ladder, or any other equipment. Some are minor, but most can be fatal or debilitating. Fall protection is required and must be provided to any employee working at a height of 4 feet (General Industry) and 6 feet (Construction) or more above a lower level. The best fall protection is a passive system because it does not require active participation from the worker. Examples of these are guard rail systems and safety nets. But sometimes active fall protection is needed, such as a personal fall arrest system (PFAS).
What is a PFAS?
A PFAS (personal fall arrest system) consists of three major components: A) a full-body harness; B) a shock-absorbing lanyard or retractable lifeline; and C) secure anchors. When used according to the manufacturer’s instructions a PFAS can save a life should a fall occur, by stopping the worker from striking the surface below. A PFAS must always be used with oversight from a competent person, and should be part of a fall protection program.
The ABC’s of PFAS
A personal fall arrest system (PFAS) must meet specific requirements:
A – Anchor Point
The anchor point (tie-off point) is a secure point of attachment for the fall arrest system’s lanyard or lifeline.
· Anchor point locations should be planned out before work begins.
· The anchor point should be attached to a substantial structural member, such as a beam, girder, roof truss or rafter.
· The anchor point must support either 5,000 pounds per worker or twice the intended load.
· When installing anchor points, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Never use a pipe or vent as an anchor point. Never use sheetrock screws to install an anchor point.
B – Body Harness
A full-body harness is required for a PFAS. The body harness distributes the force of a fall to reduce the chance of bodily injury. It includes shoulder and thigh straps, and a D-ring.
· Body belts should never be part of a PFAS. Make sure that D-rings are larger than the snap hook.
· Note: The connecting D-ring in a properly fitted harness should be located in the center of the upper back. Not all PFAS components are interchangeable.
C – Connecting Device
A retractable lifeline or shock-absorbing lanyard and its connectors are used to link a full-body harness to the anchor system.
· Never hook lanyards together unless manufacturer approved.
· Shock-absorbing lanyards and retractable lifelines are rarely compatible—do not connect.
· Different types of connectors include carabiners, snap hooks, D-rings, and rope grabs.
· Connectors must have a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 pounds.
D – Descent & Rescue
You must have a plan for rescuing a worker whose fall has been arrested.
· The plan should be designed to raise or lower a worker to safety without any possibility of a free fall.
· The plan should be reviewed on a routine basis.
E – Every Day Inspection & Maintenance
Inspect a PFAS prior to each use for damage or other deterioration. If damage is found on any component, immediately remove the item from service and destroy it, or have it repaired by an authorized service center. Equipment should be stored in a cool, clean, dry place out of direct sunlight.
The individual wearing the harness also plays a significant factor. Harnesses come in different sizes, but there also are universally sized harnesses with five points of adjustability. These harnesses – with two vertical straps running up the body to adjust the size, two leg buckles and a chest strap – generally fit a wider range of people both in height and weight, but not everyone. To ensure there are appropriate harnesses to fit every worker, safety managers also should have XS, XL and XXL harness available on site in addition to the universal harnesses or small, medium and large options.
All workers should be trained by a competent person on how to correctly use a PFAS. Workers should be retrained every time there are changes to the worksite that affect the planning, setup or use of fall protection.