a worker dangling from a rope during a safety drill

Safety Design Means Understanding the Details

A worker falls from a high ledge. As a responsible and careful worker, he had his fall recovery system properly attached. The controls were attached to his belt, so all he had to do was hit the “Retract” button and he would be pulled back up to the anchor point. Unfortunately, he was incapacitated. And his co-workers up on the roof couldn’t access the controls.

How about this one? Another worker falls from the same ledge. In this case, the fall recovery system has controls up at the anchor point so co-workers can help retract the line. But in this case, the worker was alone. And he couldn’t reach the anchor point, so those controls were useless to him. He dangled for hours until someone came by.

It is easy for us with the 20/20 vision of hindsight to pass judgment and say that fall recovery systems should have controls in both locations – with the worker and at the anchor point. But there are many more situations. How many different options can you integrate into a system before it becomes cost-prohibitive? And as you probably know, the more complex you make the control system, the more training is required, the harder the maintenance becomes, the more parts that can break, the harder the system becomes to configure and install.

The latest issue of Industrial Safety and Hygiene News has a good piece by Steve Kosch and Jeff Wild that summarizes what OSHA requires for fall protection and rescue, as well as some recommendations for dealing with these challenges (Free Registration Required).

It is important to keep in mind that when designing any workplace, a systems perspective is required. You need to think about the worker, the environment, the job requirements, the work practices, the training, the safety climate, standards and regulations, and on and on.

Image credit: “Falls are the fifth most common event…” by NIOSH used under public domain

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