Debunking fall protection myths part 1

XSPlatforms Debunking fall protection myths

The world of working at height knows some very persistent myths that we would like to refute. These fictitious statements are dangerous when people believe them to be true, which is why we need to spread the truth. Working safely at height is, one part the right equipment and one part the right knowledge.

In this two part blog we look at 10 common fall protection myths that are entirely false.

Myth 1: “It’s only going to take a few minutes, no need for safety equipment”

The time you spend at height has no influence on the requirement of wearing or using fall protection, so this statement is entirely false.

The employer must provide the worker with fall protection equipment, no matter how long the work is going to take. Time won’t protect anyone from a fall. Whether you are at height for 1 minute or 4 hours, the risk of you falling off the structure is the same. Which is why you must wear fall protection, no matter how long your job at heights takes. Remember, fall protection saves you from injuries or death.

The excuse that putting on fall protection PPE, such as a full body harness, takes too much time needs to be debunked. The equipment saves employees from injuries that take far much more time to recover from. You can’t put a time restraint on safety.

Myth 2: “I’m only a few feet off the ground, so I don’t need fall protection”

Most fall accidents happen at relatively low heights, because people underestimate the risks. Even though you may be only 2 meters (6,5 feet) above the ground, falls can still leave you with serious injuries.

Also take into account local regulations regarding fall protection. In the United Kingdom fall protection is required, by law, for any work at height where there is a risk of a fall that can cause injury. So no matter what height you work at you must use the fall protection provided by the employer. In the Netherlands the requirement for using fall protection starts at 2,5 meters (8,2 ft) above the ground. In the United States the general requirement for fall protection arises at heights of 1,2 meters (4 ft) and above (there are separate rules for various industries).

Myth: fall protection is a money sink

Myth 3: “Fall protection is a money sink”

We often get to hear that fall protection is expensive, but costs really are relative. With the installation of fall protection, the training of your personnel and supervision on proper use you prevent accidents. Accidents that could end up leaving someone with a permanent disability, or worse; the injuries sustained in a fall can kill a person. The medical expenses, the accident investigation, the cost of fines, compensation costs to the employer or their family, the negative press and the possible shut down of a workplace costs far much more than installing fall protection. Add on to that the effects that seeing an accident happen has on people; some may need therapy to deal with the fact they saw someone they know fall to their deaths. This results in loss of efficiency. These employees may not have a focus on their job while they are working and can make mistakes themselves.

To say that fall protection only costs money, but doesn’t pay off is a dangerous falsehood. The costs of fall protection equipment are always less than the costs made for accidents that result in injury or death.

Myth 4: “Wearing a harness and attaching to an anchor point means you are safe”

This is a treacherous statement. While you will get the idea that when you attach to an anchor point you are safe, there are a lot of other variables at play. To ensure you do not hit a lower level, or structure a calculation needs to be made that includes the materials of your fall protection system. After all a harness has a certain amount of stretch in it, that if you fall will increase the length of your fall slightly, the same goes for some other parts of your safety system.

To calculate the fall clearance we use the following formula: free fall distance + arrest distance + harness stretch + safety factor.

Example of a calculation

For example, a user is working on a ledge and is attached to an overhead anchor point with a 2 meter (6,5 feet) shock absorbing lanyard.

When they fall their free fall distance is 0,8 meter (for an explanation of how we calculated this variable we advise you read our blog about calculating the fall clearance). The shock absorber extends about 0,8 meter (2,5 ft) during a fall, and the harness stretches 0,3 m (1 ft). Then we add the safety factor of 0,6 meter (2 ft), and we come to a required fall clearance of 2,5 meters (8,2 feet). If the lower level is at a distance of 2 meters (6,5 ft) from the user then they would still sustain injuries should a fall occur.

Just attaching to an anchor point does not mean safety, there needs to be enough fall clearance to ensure you do not hit anything in case a fall occurs.

Myth: fall protection is common sense

Myth 5: “Fall protection is common sense”

What is, or isn’t common sense differs from person to person, and worksite to worksite. So we can safely say that fall protection is not common sense. Regulations are set to ensure that fall protection measures are consistent throughout a country.

Preventing falls is not just a case of proper fall protection equipment, but also a case of providing thorough fall protection training. Do not let common sense rule your worksite, but ensure all employees know the dangers and safety measures. With proper understanding and correct use of equipment we can prevent falls from height.

Education and knowledge help prevent falls

With this first part of the myths debunked blog we want to create more awareness of the misinformation that is floating around. Preventing falls is serious business and proper information is a good way to start.

Also read part two of the ‘fall protection myths debunked’ series, where we look at another 5 myths.

Also download the ‘Myths debunked’ poster, print it out and hang it in a visible spot to educate staff. You can also include the myths debunked into a toolbox talk, or use them during a safety stand-down.

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