In the hierarchy of controls, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the last option available. When hazards cannot be eliminated, and engineering controls and administrative controls will not provide the fall protection safety desired, the use of PPE is the last line of defense.
As we are a manufacturer of fall protection systems and fall protection PPE, we will only discuss fall protection PPE in this blog.
When working at height PPE is almost always obligatory. Only when the risk of a fall can be eliminated, for example by installing guardrail along the entire working surface, is it not mandatory to wear PPE. In almost all other situations workers are required to use fall protection PPE to keep themselves safe. A harness, lanyard and karabiners to tie off to a fall protection system, such as a lifeline, rail or a single anchor point, will help keep them from falling (work restraint) or stop them if they do fall (fall arrest).
Excuses for not wearing PPE
Unfortunately we still see very many situations where workers do not wear the proper PPE for a job. The most commonly heard excuses for not wearing/using fall protection PPE are ‘it’s uncomfortable to wear’, ‘it limits me in my work’, or ‘it takes too much time to put on and use’. Additionally the costs of providing fall protection are often cited. Some of these remarks may have some ground, but they should never be an excuse to skip wearing equipment that is supposed to keep a person safe.
As an employer you must solve these issues. First of you should make very clear to your employees that PPE needs to be used for their own safety. Also address the consequences of not wearing PPE. Secondly you can select better, more comfortable PPE and involve your front-line workers in the selection of the PPE. This may mean that you have to purchase several different harnesses. Thirdly you’ll need to monitor the use of PPE.
Responsibilities for using PPE
Everybody has responsibilities when it comes to working with PPE. As an employer you need to provide a safe workplace, this includes providing PPE, but also means setting up company safety policies and procedures. When you, as employer, have provided fall protection PPE and training to your employees than they have a responsibility of their own to use and wear them and follow the company’s procedures. Safety (HSE) officers will then have to ensure that all PPE are worn, and address any issues that arise regarding PPE.
Educate on necessity
Employees need to know that the use of PPE is for their own safety. So, employers need to train their employees on the necessity of PPE, what PPE they should use, how to wear and adjust their PPE, proper care and maintenance of the equipment, and its limitations. Showing necessity can be done in multiple ways, and the effectiveness depends on the persons you are addressing. Younger workers may respond better to visuals, while older workers may have a story to tell about someone who didn’t wear their fall protection PPE and the consequences of such an act.
You need to make clear that even those with years of experience in working at height are still at risk of a fall, after all, it takes only a slight misstep or loss of balance. Carelessness, overconfidence and misjudgment threaten lives while working at height, regardless of experience or education level. Using fall protection PPE is essential to getting everyone home safe at the end of the day.
Comfort and safety are compatible
All PPE should fit well and be comfortable to wear, if it isn’t you need to acquire other/better PPE that is suitable for you and your workers. A harness that’s too big (or too small) will not only hinder an employee while working at height it also isn’t safe. Employees should have enough freedom of movement, while also ensuring that the harness will catch them, should they fall, without doing extra harm (which is what happens when a harness is too small or too big). Additionally if a harness is not comfortable to wear a worker may be tempted to not wear it at all. Comfort is very important when it comes to fall protection PPE, but don’t let it get in the way of safety. Provide PPE that’s a good fit and in which employees feel good. Also ensure that you keep monitoring your fall protection PPE. Sometimes employees gain or lose weight, in both situations their previously well-fitting PPE is could no longer be sufficient. Or the harness they use is no longer suited for their weight class, for example there are harnesses with a maximum capacity of 100 kg (220 lbs) and there are harnesses suited for up to 140 kg (310 lbs).
The same concept applies to the lanyard(s) a worker has to use to attach to the system, if a lanyard limits their freedom of movement too much, or snags, they might not use the system at all. Additionally if a worker has to set the length of the lanyard themselves and this not going smoothly they may leave the length of the rope too long. Posing a great danger to themselves should they fall. An alternative is the self-retracting lifeline (SRL), this device automatically unrolls the webbing and retracts the webbing when a worker comes closer again. Allowing workers to walk around doing their job, without excess webbing causing a snag hazard or fumbles with setting the lifeline length. When a sudden acceleration takes place, in case of a fall, the fall arrest device is activated, stopping the fall.
When selecting the PPE that workers will need to use to keep safe a height you need to consider the amount of time spend on the job, the work that needs to be done and the wishes of your workers. Additionally you need to ensure that the fall protection PPE is compatible with other PPE items, when there are more than one required, for example a harness with protective work clothing.
In this article we provided some short guidelines for ensuring use of fall protection PPE; educate and provide comfort, without losing sight of safety. To ensure your employees don’t skip wearing fall protection PPE we’ve made a downloadable poster on wearing the right PPE for the job.