Falling in line with new developments
We all know how important height safety is from a legislative point of view. That’s old news. Now there are some new issues coming to light in this field. CLAIRE RENCKEN investigates
Falling from heights still constitutes the largest number of injuries and fatalities in industry in South Africa. Mark Ackermann of IRCA Global Height Safety Solutions raises an interesting point: “There is a misconception that working below three metres is not a significant risk that deserves lots of attention. However, a large percentage of injuries, and even fatalities, do occur when working at heights of below five metres and sometimes even as low as two or three metres.”
Perhaps this is due to complacency and the assumption that falling from a low height will only result in bumps and bruises. Ackermann explains: “Realistically, when you fall, you do not have much control over which way up you will fall, how you will land and what you will hit on the way down. Traditionally, height safety solutions are geared around vertical and horizontal safety lines with runners, inertia fall arrest blocks and harnesses, various rooftop protection solutions and fixed anchor points. But these solutions are not practical when it comes to providing fall protection when working at low heights, where the working situation poses unique challenges.”
Transnet Rail Engineering identified the need for low-height fall protection, based on past fall history, and challenged IRCA to provide a practical solution. The request was for customised, mobile, guarded access platforms and safety lines, in order to enable employees to move safely on top of wagons, coaches and locomotives.
Ackermann continues: “Fortunately, through the expertise of our partners (Fall Protection Engineering Works and United Kingdom-based Kee-safety) that provided clamping equipment and an engineering design, a practical solution for low heights has now become a working reality. Guarded access platforms in various forms, and low-height fall arrest and restraint systems, are now recognised as a solution when it comes to looking after employees working at low heights.”
Johan Engelbrecht of the Institute for Sustainable Risk Management highlights some other issues that have surfaced recently in terms of working at heights: “Very often, the primary focus of risk assessments is based on the risk related to the competencies of the worker, which are controlled through the provision of Safe Operating Procedure training and evaluation of medical fitness. However, the endurance of the worker is seldom evaluated to determine the period for which individuals are able to perform the work safely at the elevated position.”
He adds: “Communication can be another problem – many different languages are spoken by labourers from various parts of Africa and they do not always understand the accepted terminology used in terms of safety, which could endanger an employee in a densely populated, elevated position.”
Engelbrecht has come across another problem: “Sometimes, we find that adequate barricading and warning signs have been placed on the elevated structure to prevent persons and tools from falling, but secondary controls, such as the demarcation and barricading of drop zones, are often ignored, which could potentially cause a risk for persons moving around or below the elevated position.”
From an environmental perspective, he points out that the disposal or destruction of defective or old height-safety equipment should be considered. “Various service providers in the market could responsibly dismantle and recycle various types of height safety equipment – a much better option than just sending old equipment to the waste skip or scrap yard.”
The fall arrest systems provided by Nosa have also evolved over the past few years. The company’s height safety specialist, Anderson Cilliers, points out: “The industry has gone from being a purely training- and equipment-orientated environment to a highly developed, engineering field with the focus on safety throughout the whole process of accessing, working on, and safely leaving, identified structures.”
Nosa’s Advanced Fall Arrest Systems are designed around the unique environment and risk areas of the client, with all aspects being customised for the application as well as the number of personnel who will be accessing the risk area. With the scope of the application being endless, the focus of these systems is to provide the client with a solution that is easy to install, will provide long-term usage, will be extremely safe in application and cost effective over the lifespan of the system.
Cilliers adds: “Being an engineering system, it can also be tested in line with engineering principles of load-bearing capacity, structural integrity (should a fall take place) and manoeuvrability.”
Also keeping up with the latest safety requirements for working at heights, MSA Africa now offers a new fall protection harness to improve worker safety.
MSA Africa sales and marketing director, Paul Gibbon, notes that the alphaFP SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) fall protection harness can be swiftly and easily connected to any MSA SCBA backplate in confined space emergencies, in applications ranging from mining and construction, to painting and welding.
“This unique product serves as a two-in-one solution for emergency situations,” he says. “It offers the user the highest levels of safety in exposed situations, and is the ideal safety solution for height and shaft rescues. It also provides respiratory protection in tunnel operations. By virtue of its slide-through design, normal walking is unobstructed.”
According to Gibbon, prolonged operations on a rope can be conducted in comfort, as the hip harness with both leg loops turns into a comfortable seat. The harness has a front opening system that allows for fast donning, even within the confines of a vehicle. “Two versions are available in the local market, namely the alphaFP pro and the alphaFP basic, which both come in standard or large sizes,” he concludes.
So make sure you don’t get left behind. Be aware of the latest concerns and the new and improved products, before you start creating your fall protection plan.