The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that some 2.3 million workers (men and women) around the world succumb to work-related accidents and diseases every year; this corresponds to over 6000 deaths per day.
Worldwide, we see approximately 340 million occupational accidents annually. As a body, the ILO updates these estimates at intervals, with the updates indicating an increase of occupational accidents.1A critical element of these estimated findings is that the construction industry has a disproportionately high rate of recorded accidents. In 2021, Arinite’s health and safety consultants2 analysed the reported average workplace fatality rates per 100,000 workers across the globe, to identify countries and industries where they are most dangerous, and unsurprisingly construction was revealed as the fourth most dangerous sector, with a global average fatality rate of 10.24 per 100,000, with the highest rate in the Republic of Moldova of 44.7 per 100,000.
“the construction industry has a disproportionately high rate of recorded accidents”
With a focus on construction, a significant risk within that sector is ‘falls’ from working at height. Within the UK for example, there is a plethora of legislation, standards and guidance which must be taken into account when assessing needs and then recommending, installing, training and implementing a working at height solution. Here are the regulations we are required to consider:
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
- Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (as amended)
- Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- Work at Height Regulations 2005
- Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015
- Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007
- BS EN 365:2004 Personal Protective Equipment Against Falls from a Height
- BS 8437:2005 Code of Practice for Selection, Use and Maintenance of Personal Protection Systems and Equipment for use in the Workplace
When we are dealing with working at height, the priority should always be to ‘design out’ the need to conduct the work at height. If this is not possible then the next requirement should be to provide collective or non-user participant solution or, if this is not practical, to provide personal or user participant solutions.
In determining controls, there are naturally other factors that also affect final production solutions, which include:
- Frequency of access and duration (carrying out an activity twice a year is frequent)
- Risk Assessment (statistically there are far more reported injuries to workers below 2 metres in height than above)
- Minimum height considerations
- Pendulum effect
- Building’s structure
- Planning issues
“when working at height, we must apply the Working at Height Hierarchy”
Hazards and Risks
An assessment of risk is nothing more than a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more.
When working at height, we must apply the Working at Height Hierarchy, which is a process of consideration that is to be applied when selecting the relevant control measures. So before conducting working at height activities consider:
- Can the work at height be avoided – is it reasonably practicable to do so?
- If it can’t be avoided, can falls be prevented – using the existing workplace that is already safe, or the right type of equipment
- Minimise the distance and consequences of any fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated
So now, we can consider the mitigation of the risk of falling (known as Controls), and the standards that apply within the EU and those of OSHA.
Fall Arrest Systems
Components of fall arrest system is a simple aspect of A to D:
- Body Support
- Decent / Rescue
Anchors fall into two categories, certified or improvised. The standard that applies for certified anchorage is EN 795, which defines the technical requirements placed on anchor devices. This standard indicates which loads horizontal fall arrest solutions must withstand and how they are to be tested and certified. EN 795 distinguishes five types of anchorage device, from A to E. This Standard does not consider multi-user applications.
Body Support typically synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester or blends of both. The typical material of choice is polyester because of its abrasion resistance, strength, ability to shed water and its flexibility. Specifications are placed on straps, which are to be at least 40mm wide and rates to 12kN. All harnesses are rated for an individual of 100kg; thus, a worker cannot weigh more than 100kg, which includes clothing and tooling, and if, in the event of an incident, this limit is exceeded then harness (body support) manufacturers can deny product liability. The standard for Full body support harnesses is EN361:2002.
Connectors in the form of Karabiners, hooks and other connectors are manufactured to the EN362:2004 Standard, which in its basic sense describes the requirements, test methods, marking, manufacturer information, and packaging specification that must be applied by the manufacturer.
Descent / Rescue a number of standards here across the EU, namely EN354:2010 for Lanyard / Restraint Lanyards and have an ultimate tensile strength of 22kN; EN355 for Lanyards against falls from a Height, this standard specifies the requirements, test methods, instruction for use, marking and packaging for energy absorbers used in fall arrest.
Within the EU, there are other standard EN358:2018 describes Work Positioning Systems, a combination of components to make up a system (not to be used for fall arrest); there are standards for commonly used Retractable Type Inertia Reel Blocks EN460:2002.
One element when working at height is having an Emergency Rescue Plan, and obviously for this you will require additional equipment, and again there are key standards for these EN363:2018 Height Safety Kits, e.g. combination of a harness together with a lanyard and an energy absorber.
Additional standards exist for general requirements / instructions for marking products with user instructions, inspection periods and retesting EN365:2004; and EN364 which is for the Detail of Test Methods to be carried by an accredited test house, to confirm the products compliance with the requirements of the standard.
So to refresh, the EU, and the UK adopt the following standards for equipment when working at height:
- BS EN 354: 2010 Personal fall protection equipment – Lanyards
- BS EN 355: 2002 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height – Energy absorbers
- BS EN 358: 2000 Personal protective equipment for work positioning and prevention of falls from a height – Belts for work positioning and restraint and work positioning lanyards
- BS EN 361: 2002 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height – Full body harnesses
- BS EN 362: 2004 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height- Connectors
- BS EN 363: 2008 Personal fall protection equipment – Personal fall protection systems
- BS EN 364: 1993 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height – Test methods
- BS EN 365: 2004 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height – General requirements for instructions for use, maintenance, periodic examination, repair, marking and packaging
- BS EN 795: 2012 Personal fall protection equipment –Anchor devices
- BS 8513: 2009 Personal fall protection equipment –Twin-legged energy absorbing lanyards – Specification
- BS 7883:2005 Code of practice for the design, selection, installation, use and maintenance of anchor devices conforming to BS EN 795
- BS 8437: 2005 + A1: 2012 Code of Practice for selection, use and maintenance of personal fall protection systems and equipment for use in the workplace
- BS 8454: 2006 Code of Practice for the delivery of training and education for work at height and rescue
“when vertical lifelines are used, each employee shall be attached to a separate lifeline”
In the USA, the body Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) address fall protection in their standards for the construction industry. This goes as far as Federal Registers, Notices (Rules/Proposed Rules), preambles to final rules (background to final rules), directives (instruction to OSHA staff), letters of interpretation (official letters of interpretation of standards), example cases, and national consensus standards related to fall protection.
As previously identified, OSHA use the A, B, C of Personal Fall Arrest Systems with slightly different terminology:
- Body Harness
The main standard is 1926.502 – Fall Protection Systems, Criteria & Practices. This does not include the body belt as part of a fall arrest system, though it does state that the use of a body belt in a ‘positioning’ device system is acceptable and regulated.
There are different sub-headings within 1926.502(d) with the following information available, and not prescriptive in determining ‘exacting’ performance standards:
- 1926.502(d)(1) Connectors shall be drop forged, pressed or formed steel, or made of equivalent materials
- 1926.502(d)(2) Connectors shall have a corrosion-resistant finish, and all surfaces and edges shall be smooth to prevent damage to interfacing parts of the system
- 1926.502(d)(3) Dee-rings and snaphooks shall have a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 pounds (22.2 kN)
- 1926.502(d)(4) Dee-rings and snaphooks shall be proof-tested to a minimum tensile load of 3,600 pounds (16 kN) without cracking, breaking, or taking permanent deformation
- 1926.502(d)(5) Snaphooks shall be sized to be compatible with the member to which they are connected to prevent unintentional disengagement of the snaphook by depression of the snaphook keeper by the connected member or shall be a locking type snaphook designed and used to prevent disengagement of the snaphook by the contact of the snaphook keeper by the connected member. Effective January 1, 1998, only locking type snaphooks shall be used
- 1926.502(d)(6) Unless the snaphook is a locking type and designed for the following connections, snaphooks shall not be engaged:
- 1926.502(d)(6)(i) directly to webbing, rope or wire rope
- 1926.502(d)(6)(ii) to each other
- 1926.502(d)(6)(iii) to a Dee-ring to which another snaphook or other connector is attached
- 1926.502(d)(6)(iv) to a horizontal lifeline- 1926.502(d)(6)(v) to any object which is incompatibly shaped or dimensioned in relation to the snaphook such that unintentional disengagement could occur by the connected object being able to depress the snaphook keeper and release itself
- 1926.502(d)(7) On suspended scaffolds or similar work platforms with horizontal lifelines which may become vertical lifelines, the devices used to connect to a horizontal lifeline shall be capable of locking in both directions on the lifeline
- 1926.502(d)(8) Horizontal lifelines shall be designed, installed, and used, under the supervision of a qualified person, as part of a complete personal fall arrest system, which maintains a safety factor of at least two
- 1926.502(d)(9) Lanyards and vertical lifelines shall have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds (22.2 kN)
- 1926.502(d)(10)(i) Except as provided in paragraph (d)(10)(ii) of this section, when vertical lifelines are used, each employee shall be attached to a separate lifeline
- 1926.502(d)(10)(ii) During the construction of elevator shafts, two employees may be attached to the same lifeline in the hoist way, provided both employees are working atop a false car that is equipped with guardrails; the strength of the lifeline is 10,000 pounds [5,000 pounds per employee attached] (44.4 kN); and all other criteria specified in this paragraph for lifelines have been met
- 1926.502(d)(11) Lifelines shall be protected against being cut or abraded
- 1926.502(d)(12) Self-retracting lifelines and lanyards which automatically limit free fall distance to 2 feet (0.61 m) or less shall be capable of sustaining a minimum tensile load of 3,000 pounds (13.3 kN) applied to the device with the lifeline or lanyard in the fully extended position
- 1926.502(d)(13) Self-retracting lifelines and lanyards which do not limit free fall distance to 2 feet (0.61 m) or less, rip stitch lanyards, and tearing and deforming lanyards shall be capable of sustaining a minimum tensile load of 5,000 pounds (22.2 kN) applied to the device with the lifeline or lanyard in the fully extended position
- 1926.502(d)(14) Ropes and straps (webbing) used in lanyards, lifelines, and strength components of body belts and body harnesses shall be made from synthetic fibres
- 1926.502(d)(15) Anchorages used for attachment of personal fall arrest equipment shall be independent of any anchorage being used to support or suspend platforms and capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds (22.2 kN) per employee attached, or shall be designed, installed, and used as follows:
- 1926.502(d)(15)(i) as part of a complete personal fall arrest system which maintains a safety factor of at least two
- 1926.502(d)(15)(ii) under the supervision of a qualified person
- 1926.502(d)(16) Personal fall arrest systems, when stopping a fall, shall:
- 1926.502(d)(16)(i) limit maximum arresting force on an employee to 900 pounds (4 kN) when used with a body belt
- 1926.502(d)(16)(ii) limit maximum arresting force on an employee to 1,800 pounds (8 kN) when used with a body harness
- 1926.502(d)(16)(iii) be rigged such that an employee can neither free fall more than 6 feet (1.8 m), nor contact any lower level
- 1926.502(d)(16)(iv) bring an employee to a complete stop and limit maximum deceleration distance an employee travels to 3.5 feet (1.07 m)
- 1926.502(d)(16)(v) have sufficient strength to withstand twice the potential impact energy of an employee free falling a distance of 6 feet (1.8 m), or the free fall distance permitted by the system, whichever is less
“falls in the construction industry, accounting for more than 33% of occupational fatalities”
The regulations note that if the fall arrest system meets the criteria and protocols within the regulatory elements, and the system is used by an employee having a combined person and tool weight of less than 140kg (somewhat different to the UK/EU requirement), the system will be considered to be in compliance.
- 1926.502(d)(17) The attachment point of the body belt shall be located in the centre of the wearer’s back. The attachment point of the body harness shall be located in the centre of the wearer’s back near shoulder level, or above the wearer’s head
- 1926.502(d)(18) Body belts, harnesses, and components shall be used only for employee protection (as part of a personal fall arrest system or positioning device system) and not to hoist materials
- 1926.502(d)(19) Personal fall arrest systems and components subjected to impact loading shall be immediately removed from service and shall not be used again for employee protection until inspected and determined by a competent person to be undamaged and suitable for reuse
- 1926.502(d)(20) The employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves
- 1926.502(d)(21) Personal fall arrest systems shall be inspected prior to each use for wear, damage and other deterioration, and defective components shall be removed from service
- 1926.502(d)(22) Body belts shall be at least one and five-eighths (1 5⁄8) inches (4.1 cm) wide (again we are seeing a specification, this on a body belt, with virtually the same width as the UK/EU shoulder straps
- 1926.502(d)(23) Personal fall arrest systems shall not be attached to guardrail systems, nor shall they be attached to hoists except as specified in other subparts of this part
- 1926.502(d)(24) When a personal fall arrest system is used at hoist areas, it shall be rigged to allow the movement of the employee only as far as the edge of the walking/working surface
What is interesting to note is that this regulatory approach to standards was dated 2011, somewhat delayed from the UK/EU standards that derived over a period from the early 1990s to 2012.
What is significant is that OSHA state that falls are the leading cause of work-related death in the construction industry, accounting for more than 33% of occupational fatalities in the industry. They go on to state that there’s another reason that fall prevent is important – Money. Their most stated violations are for fall related standards! EU-OSHA state that work-related health outcomes represent a much higher burden for society than work accidents.When looking at such global institutions, there has been many advancements in technology, AI, and digitalisation which will impact on standards of manufacture and consistency of manufacture of all such equipment. The key is the user, we cannot become removed from the user, they are the ones that the standards need to work for!