Falls from height usually result in serious injury or fatalities, and one protection is wearing fall arrest systems. These systems include catch platforms, safety nets and individual of personal protective equipment fall arrest systems. The purpose of these systems is to safely stop a worker falling an uncontrolled distance and reduce the impact of a fall.
SafeWork Australia suggests that you must only use these systems if it is not reasonably practicable to use a fall prevention device or work positioning system. Or if these higher-level controls might not be fully effective in preventing a fall on their own. However, at all times where practicable complete the work on the ground.
In this article, we delve into the Model Code of Practice: Managing the risk of falls at workplaces to take a look at fall arrest systems to guide you on their purpose and safe use.
When selecting a system, you must install and use it correctly and ensure you train your employees on how to fit it securely in place. The equipment and anchors must be capable of withstanding the force applied to them as a result of a person’s fall. Also, you must ensure if a person does fall that they travel the shortest possible distance before having a fall stopped.
What is a Catch Platform and How Do We Use One?
Where practical, eliminating the risk of a fall by working on the ground is the best solution. However, where that is not possible, fall arrest systems such as catch platforms can provide a safe landing for falling workers. Only licensed scaffolders should construct and erect fixed or mobile catch platforms. They must be of robust construction that is strong enough to withstand the maximum potential impact load of a falling worker, equipment, materials and tools.
Catch platforms should always incorporate a fully planked-out deck. You must position them, so the deck extends at least 2 metres beyond unprotected edges of the work area, except where extended guard railing is fitted to the catch platform. Also, it would be best if you positioned them as close as possible to the underside of the work area. When installing catch platforms, always make sure that the distance a person could fall before landing on the catch platform is no more than 1 metre. Finally, you must always use catch platforms together with edge protection.
See our article, What Can We Do To Prevent Fall From Height Risks?
How Are Safety Nets Useful?
When you need fall protection and freedom of movement, safety nets act as great fall arrest systems. It’s a good idea to use safety nets together with rigging and scaffold platforms and components. Once again, only licensed scaffolders should erect and service safety nets.
If you use safety nets, they must be made of material strong enough to catch a falling person or thing and securely anchored. You must hang them as close as is practicable to the underside of the working area, and no more than 2 metres below. Always make sure the safety net has sufficient tension and clearance to prevent a falling person contacting any surface or structure below the safety net.
Also, you should not perform any hot work above a safety net because that can damage or perforate the safety net. And, you should not allow rubbish or waste to accumulate because they can affect the safety nets integrity and add additional weight. Finally, when not in use, store in dry and shaded areas to prevent deterioration.
See our article, What Does Safely Working at Height Mean?
What is Fall Arrest PPE?
Individual fall arrest systems are a type of personal protective equipment or PPE. You should only use fall arrest PPE when it is not reasonably practicable to use higher-level control measures, or together with higher-level controls as an additional safeguard. Fall arrest PPE includes
- Anchorages, including a rail system
- Lifelines, lanyard, shock absorber and inertia reel
- Rope and wire grabs
- Snap hooks and karabiners—double or triple action to prevent rollout, and
- Rescue equipment.
To safely use fall arrest PPE, your worker’s should wear a full-body harness that fits well and is not too large. They must attach the fall arrest PPE to a suitable anchor point as high as the equipment permits, and do that before moving into a position where they could fall. Also, there should be a minimum of slack in the fall arrest lanyard between the worker and the attachment.
You must train your employees on how to use fall arrest PPE, and if the equipment has been used to arrest a fall, you should not use it again until it has been inspected and certified by a competent person as safe to use. Finally, you need a rescue plan in place if a worker falls and all employees need to know what to do in the case of a fall emergency.
See our article, 8 Working At Height Safety Myths.
What is the Maximum Safe Free Fall Distance?
The lower the free-fall distance while using fall arrest systems, the better, however, the maximum safe distance is 2 metres. There needs to be sufficient distance between the work surface and any surface below to enable the system to deploy fully. To work out the safe free fall distance, you must calculate:
- The worker’s height
- The height and position of the anchorage point
- The length of the lanyard
- Any slack in the horizontal lifeline
- Any stretching of the lanyard or horizontal lifeline when extended by a fall, and
- The length of the energy absorber when extended by a fall.
Training to Safely Work at Height
The Model Code of Practice highlights the importance of training safe working at height practices from a positive perspective. Your employees need to recognise height and fall risks but also need to be shown how to keep themselves and others safe while performing high-risk tasks such as working at height. Tap into Safety understands the need to reinforce positive behaviours, and you will find on our interactive safety training platform several courses that teach safely working at height practices. Our out-of-the-box courses include:
- Commercial Construction at Height
- Residential Construction at Height
- Scaffold Erection
- Scaffolding on the Top Floor
- Ground Works for Commercial Construction
Working at height is high-risk, and where we can’t complete work on the ground, we need to ensure our employee’s safety by using fall arrest systems. There are several fall arrest systems that you can use, including catch platforms, safety nets and fall arrest PPE.
Catch platforms must be of robust construction that is strong enough to withstand the maximum potential impact load of a falling worker, equipment, materials and tools. They should always incorporate a fully planked-out deck that extends at least 2 metres beyond unprotected edges of the work area. The distance a person could fall before landing on the catch platform must be no more than 1 metre, and they should be used together with edge protection.
Safety nets are another option to protect worker’s if they fall. They must be made of material strong enough to catch a falling person or thing and securely anchored. They should be hung as close as is practicable to the underside of the working area, and no more than 2 metres below.
Fall arrest personal protective equipment includes harnesses, lanyards, anchors, snap hooks, rope and grab wires. To safely use fall arrest PPE, your worker’s should wear a full-body harness that fits well and is not too large. They must attach the fall arrest PPE to a suitable anchor point as high as the equipment permits, and do that before moving into a position where they could fall.
By providing effective fall arrest systems and using them correctly, we should see fall from height injuries, and fatalities reduce. Where we fail is training in safe practice and not using fall arrest equipment while working at height. Sadly, there have been some recent fall accidents where employees remove their fall arrest PPE and then place themselves back at height to complete work. Remember, no job is too small to install fall arrest systems.
This article is also available as a podcast on the Tap into Safety Podcast.