Have you ever sat through a fall protection class or looked at the standard regulating your industry? There are a lot of numbers and other information thrown at you. To begin, you need to understand where you work and what you do. This will help you determine what OSHA source material you’ll need to review. It will be either 1910 Subpart D for general industry or 1926 Subpart M under the construction standard. Depending on the specific task you’re engaged in, there could be other areas you may need to visit. Are you working on scaffolding in the construction industry, then Subpart L? Maybe a question about steel erection, then Subpart R has some information you could reference. Regardless, numbers are an important part of fall protection. We’re going to focus on the construction industry and the standards that regulate it.
Let’s start with one of the most important number to remember in the construction industry, 6 feet. This number is important specifically because OSHA has designated this as the height an employee on a walking working surface 6’ above the lower level needs to be protected from falling. Additionally, the maximum allowable freefall distance in most instances is also 6’. Protecting your workers can be achieved with several options, the most popular of which are the use of a guard rail system, or personal fall arrest system. Ensure you and your employees are familiar with 6’ and have a plan in place to protect workers at or above this level.
When determining the protective measures, you’re going to use, guardrails are a common and easy choice. If you’re going to use a guard rail system, it must meet several requirements, again more numbers to remember. The top rail must be located at 42” +/- 3”. It must support 200# of an outward downward force. The mid rail must be located directly between the top rail and the walking working surface, typically this is 21” and support 150# of an outward downward force. If you install a toe board, it must be no higher than 1/4” above the walking surface and support 50# of force applied against it. Ensure that your workforce understands the height requirements and the limitations of the system. Although common on most jobsites, remember, they only need to support 200#’s at the most. That number is not very big when you think about an employee potentially falling into or against an installed guard rail on your project.
Another method to protect employees is the use of a restraint or personal fall arrest system (PFAS). This method, when used correctly, should ensure that your employees are never exposed to a fall or protected in the event of an actual fall. With the use of these protective methods, there are all sorts of numbers that we need to ensure our work force understands. Teaching the employee’s, the ABC’s of fall protection is an easy way to help them remember.
The A stands for anchor. In any system, you need to ensure what you are anchoring to, will support you. With this, the OSHA requirements call for one of the following numbers. 1000, 3000, or 5000. These are the minimum anchorage connector breaking strength (per ANSI) depending on your fall protection application. 1000# for restraint, 3000# for work positioning, and 5000# for fall arrest. You can also use an anchor that is designed, installed and used as part of a complete PFAS which maintains a safety factor of at least two, under the supervision of a qualified person.
B is for body support, typically a full body harness. Inspect your harness, you’ll find some more numbers. 310# and 420#. Depending on your equipment, this will be the maximum permitted worker weight able to use this equipment. This difference is typically dependent upon the next part of your ABC’s.
The C is the connector you use. This is the lanyard, retractable, or restraint system you are using to keep you from falling or hitting a lower level. It’s what connects your body support to the anchor. Manufacturers have a wide variety of connecting equipment to use, most are rated at 900#. This is the maximum average arrest force permitted under normal conditions, although OSHA and ANSI both permit the number to be 1800#. Additionally, the connector will have a deceleration distance. That number is 3.5 feet, although ANSI allows for 4’. These numbers are important because they will help determine an appropriate anchor height. You don’t want to go to low and end up hitting something below you.
A complete fall protection program should look at all of these different numbers and consider them when putting together a plan to protect your workers. If you need help understanding the fall protection numbers and standards or want someone to help develop a plan for you, give us a call (800) 819-6092. We would love to help you set up a plan that works for you and your team.