Falling in life

Falling in life

Things didn’t end well when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, and some shock statistics indicate that the world hasn’t come far enough in its appreciation of the risks of working at heights. As JACO DE KLERK discovers, the matter now has lost-business-opportunity implications too.

Terrible things happen in nursery rhymes. After his big fall, not even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could put Humpty together again. It’s often no different in real life. The dangers of working at heights are very, very real. According to HSE Solutions, provider of health, safety and environmental solutions and sole distributor of Honeywell Protection in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 100 000 injuries and deaths can be attributed to work-related falls each year in North America.

In addition to the tragedy of death and permanent injury caused by falls, businesses are losing billions each year through significant increases in insurance premiums. According to Boston-based Liberty Mutual, a private provider of workers’ compensation insurance in the US, on-the-job injuries cost employers nearly
US$1 billion (R8,75 billion) a week in payments to injured employees and their medical care providers.

With figures like these, it’s no wonder sales of fall protection products have grown in the past decade. However, as HSE points out, so too has the number of injuries and deaths associated with falls from heights.

A contributing factor is the deterioration that all fall protection equipment goes through with use and exposure over time, regardless of brand or manufacturer – and because it often isn’t inspected for wear and damage frequently enough. HSE adds that the wrong equipment is often selected for particular situations, or that the right gear isn’t worn properly or that the correct training isn’t provided.

Product quality compounds the dangers. Shockingly, 85 percent of all product samples subjected to standard safety tests in accordance with the American National Standards Institute failed. A recent test programme focused on shock-absorption lanyards from eight manufacturers showed a variety of performance failures.

Many didn’t pass the visual inspection criteria, displaying weld splatters, webbing abrasions, broken stitching, chemical damage, discoloration, deformed and loose hardware and distorted and broken grommets. Six percent of webbing actually broke, 24 percent elongated past the allowed standard, another six percent were still in active use despite being previously deployed in an incident, 42 percent had hardware with visible defects, and nine percent had snap hooks that opened during testing.

This demonstrates the importance of selecting the right fall arrest equipment, and highlights the value of inspecting it frequently.

Three key components of a personal fall arrest system must be in place and properly used to provide maximum worker protection: a harness, a connection and an anchorage point.

These individual components won’t provide protection from a fall, but when used correctly and in conjunction with each other, form a personal fall arrest system that’s vital for those working at heights. However, knowledge is power, and knowing how to use equipment correctly is just as important.

Height Wise Training Academy, a height safety consulting and training provider, can help in this regard. The company’s training programme provides clients with comprehensive and up-to-date information on how to remain fully compliant with occupational health and safety laws.

Director Penny Fabricius explains that Height Wise is the exclusive provider of the improved fall protection plan training material written by Ascentech Safety Consultancy – a specialist in the management and implementation of fall protection plans for businesses across South Africa.

Height Wise was established in 2007 and is a subsidiary of Skyriders, a provider of rope access aided inspection, non-destructive testing and high-elevation safety solutions. The company provides training at its academy in Midrand, but encourages all clients to undertake training on-site.

“We prefer to provide training on-site as it is more cost effective for the client and, more importantly, provides trainees with a hands-on approach to learning essential safety skills in a ‘real-life’ environment,” Fabricius points out.

She notes that the training manual contains new and detailed information that enables clients to not only assess their work site, but also prepare a fall protection plan that enables the entire workforce to receive sufficient at-height safety training, as prescribed under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993.

According to Ascentech director Louis Roodt, the concept of the fall protection plan has evolved over the years, which leaves a number of today’s training manuals obsolete. “The way fall protection plans were written in the past has changed,” he says. “Instead of merely forcing large volumes of information on trainees, the Ascentech manual is written systematically in order to ensure that no-one is required to trawl through irrelevant information, but rather identify what they are specifically looking for.”

He points out that Ascentech was established in February 2011 due to a lack of sufficient training material being produced locally. “South Africa has been crying out for better fall protection training programmes, and Ascentech was able to devise a format that is sensible and user-friendly.”

Fabricius adds that fall protection plans are fundamentally important, especially as health and safety laws in South Africa are becoming increasingly stringent. “The Department of Labour is placing more emphasis on enforcing these laws and, as a result, most government departments now insist on safety competency certificates being produced before any tender is awarded.”

So, in addition to saving lives and preventing occupational injuries among those who work at heights, it makes good business sense to use the right fall protection equipment and training. If Humpty Dumpty had done the right thing before lounging around on that wall, the nursery rhyme might have had a happier ending.

Don’t be an egghead – get the best fall protection plan in place now! You’ll be walking on eggshells until you do.

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