Advances in Fall Protection Systems
October 28, 2021
Falls are the leading cause of worker fatalities in the construction industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Fall protection systems can make a huge difference in reducing fatalities as well as serious work-related fall injuries.
Although these systems are widely available, some employers fail to provide their workers with adequate fall protection and/or the proper training needed to use these systems effectively. New advances in fall protection are making it easier for employers to give workers the essential tools and skills they need for staying safe on the jobsite.
Fall protection prevents injury to individuals working at great heights, near the edge of a trench or hole, or on a steep grade. There are two main types of fall protection systems:
- Fall prevention systems: These are passive controls that keep workers from falling. These include restrain systems that limit workers’ movements in order to keep their center of gravity away from holes or edges, as well as guardrails, toeboards, and manhole covers.
- Fall arrest systems: These are active systems that safety stop a person who is already falling. Since workers need to manipulate these systems in order for them to work, training is required. Examples include safety nets, personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), and work positioning devices.
In some cases, employers may be able to practice fall elimination, which involves finding ways for employees to complete job tasks without working at heights or near edges. Employers may also use safety observers or other means to prevent workers from approaching areas in which they may fall.
How Have Fall Protection Systems Evolved in the Past 30 Years?
Up until about 30 years ago, waist belts were the primary technology used for fall protection. Body harnesses with shock-absorbing lanyards began replacing waist belts in the 1990s, marking a significant advance in fall protection technology. The introduction of self-retracting lifelines and rescue devices have also improved fall protection options.
More recently, belts and harnesses have also evolved to withstand extreme heat and cold. In addition, there is much more awareness in the construction industry about the importance of anchor points that are engineered for higher durability. Anchor points rated at 5,000 pounds are available to connect the lanyards, lifelines, and other forms of tie-offs from a worker’s PFAS to a roof or other stable structure.
What Are the Latest Advances in Fall Protection Systems?
Today, high-tech is enabling another huge leap in the effectiveness of fall prevention and fall arrest systems. The latest advances in fall protection include the following:
- Portable, mobile guardrails, and sturdier ladders that are easier to deploy.
- More comfortable harnesses.
- Wearables that prevent and detect falls in real time.
- Apps and games that provide virtual reality safety training.
One of the most exciting of these advances is the use of virtual reality simulation for fall protection training. Virtual reality games place the individual in a hazardous construction jobsite setting, such as a high-rise building or overlooking a trench, and simulate what happens when they fall.
Other virtual reality apps train workers on wearing and inspecting harnesses in just a few minutes. For example, the Harness Hero app helps reinforce basic training on fall protection, including anchors, belts, and connections. The app teaches workers how to select a proper anchor point and inspect their equipment. These tools are engaging and can help employees learn safety skills quickly.
The Apple Watch and other wearable devices have been adapted by some employers in the construction industry to monitor the status and location of workers performing tasks in high-risk areas. The Apple Watch has GPS and fall protection features than can be set to alert construction site managers if a worker falls. Apps that monitor vital signs can be used to detect if an individual working at heights should come down because they are experiencing a medical problem.
Employers now have fewer excuses for failing to implement fall protection systems. In addition, the OSHA and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) publish fall protection guidelines and policies. Skipping over fall protection may result in fines and other penalties.
What OSHA Standards Apply to Fall Protection Systems?
The OSHA’s fall protection requirements include but are not limited to the following:
- Employers must provide fall protection at elevations of 4 feet in general industry workplaces and 6 feet at construction jobsites. They must also provide fall protection when employees are working over dangerous equipment, regardless of the fall distance.
- Employers must provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers.
- Employers must train workers about fall hazards in a language that they can understand.
In addition, the ANSI recommends that employers assign a fall protection program administrator who has a thorough understanding of fall hazards and how to control them. Employers should also train new hires on fall hazards and inspect their fall protection systems.
The bottom line is that employers must follow standards when planning and implementing fall protection and training. Failure to do so may result in unnecessary injuries to their workers.
Why Do Work-Related Injuries From Falls Continue?
Despite the availability of fall protection systems, work-related fall injuries continue to occur for a number of reasons, including the following:
- Implementation takes time. Workers and employers want to get the job done as fast as possible. Erecting sturdy, permanent-type guardrails, and/or donning a harness adds extra time to the job. However, when someone falls, all work stops. Skipping fall protection does not always save time or money in the long run.
- Workers find harnesses and other systems uncomfortable and inconvenient. Some workers feel that these systems limit their mobility interfere with their ability to do their job. However, workers can learn how to adjust equipment to fit better if they are given proper training.
- Workers may feel they do not need fall protection systems. Employees who have never experienced a fall on the job may feel they have good balance or that the job is a quick one that does not merit the effort of setting up fall protection. However, falls can happen in an instant. Also, there are many conditions beyond the worker’s control that lead to a fall. Scaffolding or platforms may be faulty, or another piece of equipment may strike them while they are working near an edge. Fortunately, new advances in fall protection are now available to address these objections, making it easier for employers to protect their workers.
- Workers have not been trained to use fall protection systems. Some systems can seem complicated to use. Training is required to use fall protection effectively, even for using systems that seem simple. Training takes time, but it is an integral part of the employer’s responsibility to maintain a safe workplace.
Why Should Workers Contact a Lawyer if They Are Injured in a Fall on the Job?
Workers should contact a lawyer if they are injured in a fall for the following reasons:
- Filing a Workers’ Compensation claim can be complicated.
- Employers may attempt to deny or minimize the extent of injury to avoid paying full benefits to the worker.
- A lawyer can help workers with the process of documenting their injuries and submitting necessary paperwork on time in order to preserve their rights.
- Workers may actually be able to file a lawsuit to recover additional damages from third parties in addition to receiving Workers’ Compensation.
Many times, a worker’s carelessness is cited for the reason why a fall occurred. In reality, falls often happen due to a lack of fall protection or training, or the negligence of a manufacturer or property owner.
Galfand Berger LLP has been representing injured workers for more than 70 years. Examples of results we have obtained for our clients include the following:
- $8 million recovery for construction worker permanently injured in a fall. The worker fell 18 feet while installing lateral bracing on a house under construction. The man suffered multiple serious injuries, including spinal compression, traumatic brain injury, and chronic pain syndrome. Our lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP secured a recovery of damages from the property owner and a contractor by showing that the worker’s injuries occurred because he had not been provided adequate fall protection.
- $850,000 recovery for worker injured by a fall from an elevated industrial platform. Our lawyers obtained the settlement for this client by showing that the construction company that built the platform was negligent because it provided equipment that lacked safety devices that would have prevented this type of fall.
We are proud of the many recoveries we have obtained for our clients over the years, helping to address the medical and financial consequences of experiencing a serious work-related fall injury.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Continue to Fight for Injured Workers
Galfand Berger LLP has been a voice for injured workers since 1947. If you have been injured in a fall accident at work, do not hesitate to contact our Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP today. Complete our online form or call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg, from our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania.