Fall Protection Safety for Electrical Contractors
Are You Working to Improve Safety?
Electrical contractors have a responsibility to the health and safety of their employees, per OSHA. As many electrical contractors tend to be a privately-owned business, this responsibility often falls on the shoulders of the owner. Are you an owner? Do you need help keeping your team safer? Are you looking for ideas to encourage compliance? This post is all about fall protection safety.
Fall Protection Safety Orientation (101) for Electrical Contractors
An electrical contractor is responsible for the health and safety of employees who are exposed to a variety of hazards. Some of these hazards are obvious, such as electrical shock and electrocution. Others, such as back injuries, slips, trips, and falls may not be as obvious. This post covers fall protection basics as they pertain to electrical contractor work.
Please note, I can’t cover every possible fall scenario in just this post – other topics include ladders and scaffolding, as well as advanced training. We all know NFPA 70E gets a lot of visibility. Arc flash training offers contractors guidance on preventing worker exposure to electric shock and arc flash hazards.
Here is the basic outline for Fall Protection 101:
- Safety Management Systems
- ABCs & ABC-R: emphasis on the R
- Job Hazard Analysis (JHA): getting started
- A Culture of Safety
#1. Safety Management Systems
All falls are preventable. What is the easiest way to prevent falls? You can engineer the risk out. Is there a way to do the same task without someone having to climb or dangle precariously? Can they do some of the work on the ground first? If so, investigate those options. If not, that’s fine. There are many tasks that just don’t have that zero-falling risk option.
We can generally classify safety management systems into (1) passive, and (2) active.
- Passive systems include: guardrails, scaffolding, limiting lanyards, etc. to prevent a fall from occurring.
- Active systems include: safety nets, personal fall arrest gear, harnesses, etc. to prevent an impact should a fall occur.
Other options include: sky lifts, bucket lifts, scissor lifts, mobile ladders, and rolling ladders
Each of these options has their own subset of best practices as well as formally published guidelines. Let’s take a quick example look at guardrails. These details come from OSHA standard 1926.502(b):
- Top rails must be 42 inches +/- 3 inches
- Must withstand 200-pound sideload
- Mid rails halfway at 21 inches and must withstand 150 pounds sideload
There are additional standards such as “no steel or plastic banding” and making sure the surface of the guardrail is designed to prevent punctures, lacerations and the snagging of clothing.
How High Can We Go? (Construction)
Some information for your consideration: 90% of all falls involving scaffolds happen while workers are performing routine jobs and the average height of those falls are 12-15 feet. Consider that a 200-pound person falling just 6-feet produces 1200 pounds of force upon impact with the ground. Enough to cause disabling injuries, paralysis, and death.
To answer the question of “How High Can We Go?” there are two standards – one for general industry and one for construction industries. In general, industry, if your feet are 4′ higher than the next lower level fall protection is required. In construction, if your feet are 6′ higher than the next lower level fall protection is required. At this point, you can use either passive or active systems or a combination of both.
#2. The ABCs, and the Rs, of Fall Protection
Like I said before, all falls are preventable. But let’s be pragmatic for a minute here. Let’s say a lot of good thought went into a task you do and making it safer, but someone still could fall more than six feet. An appropriate personal fall protection system (PPE gear) must be available and in use. Great news: your employee is wearing a fall protection harness, something like this: a combined harness with lanyard and D—ring system. Here’s a quick look at the ABCs of fall protection:
- Anchor. How is your lanyard attached and secured to a structural point? Who inspects that structural point? Who installs the attachment?
- Body. Does your team have harnesses readily available that fit properly? Do they know how to properly don their gear and use it throughout a workday? Are they wearing it all the time or just sometimes?
- Connector. What types of hardware connect a user to a lanyard and/or connect a lanyard to an anchor point?
Don’t forget Inspection. Is all of your fall protection equipment inspected annually by a competent person?
- + Retrieval. Ah ha, the ABCs and now the R of fall protection; we might even say two R’s – Retrieval and Rescue
Retrieval is an oft-overlooked but important aspect of safety. A person fell. They were wearing a harness and lanyard. The lanyard was properly fixed to an anchor and the person was properly wearing their harness, and there was a proper connection (good job). There was no impact on the ground, there was no fatality. Well, now you have an employee dangling. They might be fine. Maybe kind of hurt? Or, they might be stunned, unconscious, badly hurt, or have a twisted limb or pinched area. Can they help themselves?
Retrieval and Rescue
OK, someone fell. What now? Suspension trauma is a real thing. One of your employees is literally dangling midair. The first, best, and easiest advice we can give is to make sure that whatever personal fall protection gear you use and distribute to your team includes trauma straps. Never heard of trauma straps? Learn more here. Essentially, they allow a user to “stand” in their harness after a fall. This takes the pressure off pinched limbs and internal organs. Trauma straps are an affordable, simple, and easily-deployed answer to a common safety problem.
Retrieval also includes a look at how you are going to get this person back to a safe place. They will be happy to get standing on the good ol’ ground again, on their own two feet. We will suggest the easiest answer first: make sure that anyone who is doing work where there exists a falling hazard isn’t working alone.
Example: Timmy and Tommy are two of your field electricians. If Timmy falls from a ladder and is dangling from an I-beam, alone, he may not be able to get himself back to the ladder easily – especially if he was hurt in the process of falling. However, if Tommy is a few feet away, he can (1) reach out with his hands, (2) move the ladder, (3) call 9-1-1, (4) alert a supervisor, or any other number of options. These will depend on the person that fell and how they fell, each situation is unique. The key takeaway: teamwork really can save lives.
You must have a written fall protection program that includes rescue and retrieval plans.
Fall Protection and Electric Arc Flash Safety
Earlier I mentioned NFPA 70E getting a lot of visibility, as relates to electric shock and arc flash hazards. Did you know that fall protection harnesses are available that meet NFPA 70E standards? These products were designed to protect workers from falls caused by electric arc flash and arc blast exposure when working at heights or near energized electrical sources. This is important because unlike roofers or other general contractors – when your team is working at heights they are also very often working near possible energized sources. A quick look at the technology:
- A Kevlar® web loop on the back pad allows for a “metal-less” connection when used with a Kevlar shock-absorbing lanyard with a choke-off loop
- Leather insulators under all metal hardware offer additional protection for the worker
- All Miller Revolution Arc-Rated Harnesses have bright red binding on every pad, making them easily identifiable as an arc-rated product
#3. Job Hazard Analysis, JHA
A JHA is a job hazard analysis. Look at the situation, determine how to do it safely. When we do a JHA we care about safe operation and safe completion of the task. Our goal is to develop, implement, and enforce a safety and health program that addresses hazard recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions.
Horizon Solutions is available to help you create JHA programs and documentation. This is a professional service we offer. Our team will work closely with you, we will undertake root cause analysis, and we will look at your data, if available, to deliver a JHA that will keep your team safe.
A JHA (fall protection plan) is required whenever a worker is working at height. Government regulations require written plans be available to all workers. The plan must be available at the worksite before work where there is a potential for a fall. Workers affected by the fall protection plan must be trained in all its elements including the rescue plan and the plan must be made available to them.
Training – Part of Any Good JHA
Training is an immense topic, and it’s very relevant right now. Each year, OSHA announces a “Top 10” violations list. For the 2017 list, when we get to number 9, we see a NEW violation that was NOT on the 2016 list: Fall Protection Training Requirements. OSHA Standard 1926.503. The addition of fall protection training requirements to the OSHA top 10 list is concerning and needs to be addressed with the same urgency as other frequent repeat offenders.
Horizon Solutions published a blog post in January specifically on this topic. You can read it here. The summary is: employers must provide a training program for every employee exposed to fall hazards. The training must be taught by a “competent person.” The training must address the nature of fall hazards in the work area, correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling, and inspecting the fall protection systems to be used, use and operation of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, warning line systems, safety monitoring systems, and controlled access zones. Following training, employees must be able to identify fall hazards and procedures to follow that minimize fall hazard risks.
#4. A Culture of Safety
When Ownership/Management openly discusses their commitment to job-site safety, it helps emphasize the importance of safety at all levels. Here is a quick review of some of the best practices discussed in this blog post that might make sense to share with your team to start a safety conversation:
- If your feet are 6′ high in construction or 4′ high in the industry, fall protection is required.
- Always make sure your fall protection harness includes trauma straps.
- If you are working on a task with a fall hazard, don’t work alone.
- Document your training.
Want to learn more? Check out this 40-minute video from Miller Fall Protection. It isn’t a product commercial. Rather it is a great look at sensible personal fall protection for workers in the field.
A “Culture of Safety” starts at the top, both top to bottom and bottom to top. All levels should be empowered to go to the top level of management and offer suggestions regarding safety awareness. What questions do you have about fall protection safety? Contact us for answers!
The images used in this blog are used courtesy of Miller® Fall Protection, part of Honeywell Safety