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Using fall-protection equipment the right way


It is critical to ensure that all components of a fall-arrest system remain in good condition, in view that most fall-protection gear has a life expectancy of about five years. To ensure that fall-protection gear continues to work effectively, a user must inspect it for damage regularly.

“If you are the end user and you take off your harness three times a day, and you put it on three times a day, you should be inspecting it, making sure that it is ready to go every single time you put it on,” says Andrea Martin, fall-protection sales specialist with 3M Canada in southwest Ontario. An annual formal inspection by a qualified person is also necessary. “We suggest storing your equipment in a cool, dry environment, where it is out of direct light and potential chemical vapours, depending on your hazards in the workplace,” Martin recommends.

When choosing fall-arrest equipment to purchase, an employer should make sure that products are compliant with the most current and relevant CSA Group standard. It is also worth noting that higher cost does not necessarily mean a better product. Construction workers can choose fall-protection gear with less bells and whistles since their fall-protection equipment is not likely to last a long period of time in view of the tough work environment in which the equipment is used. This will help employers save costs by selecting products with fewer features. On the other hand, workers like tower climbers who spend a lot of time wearing harnesses need something stronger and more complex.

“Some of them, they live in a harness all day long, so they are looking for something that is comfortable, something that is breathable, something that maybe has clips to attach their tools to, something that is easy to put on and take off,” according to Chris Irwin, global training instructor with MSA in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania.

Equipment should last longer if worksites can find ways to minimize its use or make it unnecessary altogether. Using proper fall-protection gear should be the last resort, not as a first line of defence. If there is a way to complete most or all of a task on the ground, do so. If that is not possible, installing a secure guardrail in the workspace at heights can be an option.

Fall-protection equipment is evolving all the time. Scott Connor, chief of training with TEAM-1 Academy Inc. in Oakville, Ontario, says self-retracting lifelines have become popular in recent years. “They have versions that you hang up above you, and you clip the line to yourself, and if you fall, you don’t end up going very far because it catches you like a seatbelt.”

Selecting the right fall-arrest equipment is key to preserving lives, but so is providing the right fall-protection training. Fall-arrest equipment comprises a variety of products, some of which need to be combined with other types. Many manufacturers and distributors classify the basic three-piece fall-arrest system into the ABC categories:

  • “A” products are the anchorage connectors, which connect workers to tie-off points;
  • “B” products are body-support devices that workers wear around themselves; and
  • “C” products are connecting devices that link “A” to “B”, including self-retracting lifelines and shock-absorbing lanyards.

But the breadth of fall protection does not stop there. A “D” device is a descent-and-rescue product that goes into action after a worker falls, ends up suspended in the air and needs assistance to get down. This might be an automatic or manual descender or some kind of rope-access product.

Claudio Dente, president of Dentec Safety Specialists Inc. in Newmarket, Ontario, notes that other classifications of gear are available. “A Class E device is when you are retrieving someone from an area, maybe a manhole, when you have to pull them out,” he explains. “A Class L is for ladder climbing — it is a fall-arresting device that attaches to the ladder,” while a Class P is a positioning device or harness that one ties off to while working in a stationary position.

Jeff Cottrill is the former editor of Canadian Occupational Health & Safety News.