The range of fall-protection equipment is so large that it can be difficult to decide what to choose to keep employees safe while they’re working at heights. Here is a simple tool for dispelling this confusion – the ABCDs of fall protection.

It’s vital to have the correct equipment, training and supervision in place for working at heights, but sometimes, faced with all the choices, companies procure either too little (the bare minimum) or too much (hoping that the correct choice is in the mix somewhere).

The ABCDs of fall protection can remedy this situation: these are the elements that constitute any fall arrest system and must always be in place to ensure that working at heights is safe.

A is for anchorage

An anchorage is defined as a secure point of attachment for the selected connecting device.

The type of anchorage best suited to the job will be determined by factors such as the type of work to be performed, the industry and the available substrates to connect to. Importantly, the anchorage point, as well as the anchorage structure, must be strong enough to handle the forces exerted on it in the event of a fall incident.

Examples of secure anchorages are:

  • A permanent weight-bearing portion of a structure;
  • An installed, tested and certified anchor point for single-person use; and
  • A tested and certified tripod (the same kind used in confined spaces).

B is for body support

Body support, in the form of a full body harness, should evenly distribute forces if the wearer falls. Well-designed harnesses can also be worn for longer periods of time, ensuring that workers feel comfortable, are more focused and can be more productive.

Harnesses are manufactured to various standards, depending on their capabilities and performance ratings. Examples of the harnesses available include those used for:

  • Fall arrest;
  • Rope access;
  • Confined spaces.

It is important to select equipment that is not only suited to the task, but is also easy to use and adjust, allowing workers to customise their fit and also get in and out quickly.

C is for connection

The connector is the component or piece of equipment that connects the harness to the anchor point, also known as a fall arrest/fall restraint device.

Connections to an anchor are done for two main reasons:

  • Slowing and stopping falls: should a worker fall, the connection to the anchor point prevents them from reaching the ground.
  • As a restraint system: a correctly adjusted and shortened lanyard keeps workers within a safe area and prevents potential falls.

Examples of fall arrest devices used to connect to anchors include:

  • Double shock-absorbing lanyards;
  • Retractable lanyards/lifelines;
  • Mobile fall arrestors used together with a rope and anchor strap (a vertical lifeline system).

D is for descent and rescue

Rescue planning is an integral part of any fall protection system. Descending devices are a key element and can be used in a wide array of configurations to either hoist or lower a fallen worker to safety. The configuration and use of these devices should, however, only be conducted after rigorous training and practice.

In addition to more standard applications, some specific factors may need to be considered when selecting equipment to be used in the fall arrest system. Examples could be hot works in the construction field, which require specialised flame-retardant, heat-resistant equipment. In the utilities industry, on the other hand, workers may be exposed to potential arc flashes, an occurrence that needs to be taken into account.

Regardless of any additional considerations, however, knowing the basics of a fall arrest system through the ABCDs allows for easy identification and selection of the appropriate equipment to keep people safe while working at heights.

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