Fall protection requirements include safety training, identifying hazards that may lead to falls, and reducing or eliminating hazards through passive and active methods. Passive methods are considered more effective, because they do not require the worker to engage the protection. In active methods, the worker must remember and consistently use the method to prevent falls.
Industrial workplace safety in the US is covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). This US legislation requires employers to adhere to fall protection regulations. Even though self-employed workers are exempt from OSHA, fall protection requirements prevent serious injuries and death, and are therefore considered crucial safety measures. Falling a few feet onto common industrial surfaces, such as concrete, can kill or maim a worker. Identifying hazards is generally an ongoing process, as workplace procedures and equipment may change over time, creating new hazards.
OSHA fall protection requirements give preference to passive fall protection, because it is a more effective method of preventing falls; passive systems do not rely on workers to remember to connect to an active protection mechanism. Passive systems include barriers, ladder-stabilizing mechanisms, and platforms to catch a worker safely should he or she fall. Falls from ladders outnumber all other falls in the workplace, so ladder stabilization is an effective strategy for reducing injuries. Portable guard railings may be used where permanent barriers are not easily deployed.
Active systems include fixed-point anchors, beam-and-trolley systems, and harnesses connected to safety lines. In fixed-point anchor systems, the worker attaches via a harness to an overhead anchor. This anchor is connected to a stable structure via a lanyard that can absorb the shock to the worker, should a fall occur. Attaching the lanyard can hinder efficiency, as the attachment process takes time. More important, if a worker neglects to attach to the anchor system, there are effectively no fall protection requirements in place.
Mobile anchoring fall prevention systems include horizontal lifelines and beam and trolley monorail systems. Horizontal lifelines connect a worker’s harness to an overhead horizontal line that allows freedom of movement but will automatically lock if a fall occurs. A beam-and-trolley system is used when workers need to move horizontally on a platform.
One example of an effective use of a beam-and-trolley monorail system would be one on which workers are required to traverse the tops of stationary train cars. The harness attachment would travel with the worker, eliminating the need for the worker to attach and reattach the harness multiple times. Having the harness attachment move with the worker decreases the chance of the worker forgetting to attach to the system. Since failure to attach to active protection systems can result in falls, ongoing fall protection training is crucial to the success of active fall protection programs.