Safety

Managing the risk of falls in the workplace

The purpose of this article is to provide generic advice on inspection regimes for fall arrest equipment incorporating energy-absorbing lanyards and harnesses made from webbing and various attachment fittings, providing protection against equipment failure in falls from a height.

Inspecting cranes may require visual inspection and often measurements as necessary of structural components, brakes, pins wire ropes, fasteners, sheaves, locking devices and electrical. Such work is often carried out at height which always presents fall safety challenges requiring a wide range of experience, skill and knowledge and further enhancement of risk due to such personnel having to work at height.

Employers and users who have responsibility for the maintenance of their equipment also have the added responsibility of any fall arrest equipment used and are responsible for its maintenance.

There is a need for these persons to have skill and competency in and recognising the faults, that if not detected can and would directly affect the safety of the user who would be wearing the fall arrest equipment when working at height.

Fall Arrest Lanyard

An energy-absorbing lanyard as described in Australian Standards AS 1891.5 refers to a line of either fixed or adjustable length, and components which will enable a connection between a harness and an anchorage, the intent of which is to limit the deceleration during the arrest of a fall.

A component of the lanyard is the energy absorber or device which by design limits the deceleration during the arrest of a fall and can assist in the work positioning of a worker.

Many of these Lanyard Assemblies are manufactured from Synthetic Fibre webbing and Rope which are often subject to damage through mis use, general wear and tear, dirt’s, cuts, surface damage, chemical damage, light degradation (Ultraviolet Light) or other which can reduce the service life of a lanyard assembly.

The lanyard assemblies have attachment fittings to enable the lanyards to attach to a harness and an anchorage, these fittings are also subject to wear and tear, distortion, mechanical damage that can compromise the latch movements and oxidisation which when in Contact with the webbing or rope may cause abrasion and wear along with possible cutting of the lanyard webbing or rope.

Fall arrest harnesses

A fall arrest harness as described in Australian Standards AS/NZS1891.4 refers to a harness being a single assembly of interconnecting shoulder and leg straps which may incorporate a waist or other straps designed to increase the bearing area on the body and prevent the wearer falling out of the harness during a fall

A fall arrest harness would have a fall arrest lanyard or some other device attached at the time of use to restrict the possible fall there by limiting the potential for the user to fall.

Fall arrest harnesses assemblies are manufactured usually from synthetic fibre webbing often subject to damage through mis use, general wear and tear, dirt’s, cuts, surface damage, chemical damage, light degradation (ultraviolet light) or other which can reduce the useable life of the harness assembly.

The harness assemblies have attachment rings, adjuster buckles and other fittings to enable the harness to be fitted and worn correctly by the user and provide an anchorage for the energy absorbing lanyard or other equipment the user is required to attach to.

These fittings are also subject to wear and tear, distortion, mechanical damage that can compromise the latch movements and oxidisation which when in contact with the webbing may cause abrasion and wear along with possible cutting of the harness webbing.

Australian Standard AS/NZS1891.4 Section 9 provides an equipment check list as should each of the manufactures of fall arrest equipment to which components of the assembly can be inspected and the conditions or faults are checked

Safe Work NSW Code of practice “Managing The Risk of Falls at Workplaces” which may be found on web site (www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au), requires that fall arrest equipment system and its components be inspected by a competent person – after it is installed but before it is used – at regular intervals, and immediately after it has been used to arrest a fall.

Inspection of components should be conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications and the relevant standards reference AS/NZS1891.4.

If signs of excessive wear or other defects are found during the inspection of those components the lanyard or harness should be withdrawn from use.

The Standard and Work practice document requires that all personal use equipment (harness, lanyard, connectors and fall arrest devices, etc) and common use equipment (ropes, slings, fall arrest devices and mobile attachment devices) are inspected by the competent person before and after each use.

The competent person as shown in Australian Standards AS/NZS1891.4 and Work Health and Safety Regulation No 262 is considered to be a person who has through a combination of training, qualification and experience acquired knowledge and skills enabling that person to correctly perform a specified task.

Further information and guidance providing general advice on the inspection and inspection bulletins related to Fall Arrest Equipment may be found on WAHA’s website (www.waha.org.au), along with recommendation that competent persons responsible for such inspections are trained to bring knowledge and skill required to such a task.

The importance of ensuring that the competent person is able to carry out such inspections requires the PCBU to be prove the competencies of those doing the inspections.

Where the operator is not competent (for example, during operator training), these inspections should be carried out by an operator who is competent or by a height safety supervisor. The standard defines the following: –

 Competent person

A person who, through a combination of training, knowledge and experience, has acquired knowledge and skills enabling that person to correctly perform a specified task.

Height safety operator

A person who is able to perform harness-based work at heights under the direct supervision of a height safety supervisor.

Height safety supervisor

A person who is competent in the skills needed to perform harness-based work at heights, to supervise other operators including those at entry level and to participate in first response rescue.

Height safety manager

A person who is competent in the selection, design, manufacture or installation of height safety systems or equipment, or the development of control measures or work practices.

Height safety equipment inspector

A person who is competent in the skills needed to detect faults in height safety equipment and determine remedial action

Operators should be aware that their lives depend on the efficiency and durability of the equipment and proper inspection is their first line of defence against the hazards of faulty equipment.

Training and assessment of operators shall include competency in carrying out the operator inspections.

Inspections shall be by sight and touch and shall include the opening of any equipment where access for daily inspection is provided to ensure that the internal components are in good condition.

Where equipment is considered in any way doubtful by the competent person, it should be tagged out of service. A label should be attached to the equipment indicating the defect and referred to a height safety equipment inspector for further action.

Listed here are a few examples of the defects and damage that may have detrimental effects on the fall arrest equipment.

  • Surface abrasion across the face of the webbing and at the webbing loops.
  • Abrasion on the edge of the webbing straps
  • Damage to stitching (example: cuts and abrasions)
  • A knot in the lanyard, other than those intended by the manufacture
  • Chemical attack which can result in local weakening and softening – often indicated by flaking of the surface. There may also be a change to the colour of the fibres.
  • heat or friction damage indicated by fibres with a glazed appearance which may feel harder than surrounding fibres.
  • UV-degradation which is difficult to identify, particularly visually, but there may be some loss of colour and possibly a powdery surface.
  • Partially deployed energy absorber (example: short pull-out of tear webbing)
  • contamination (for example, with dirt, grit, sand etc) which may result in internal or external abrasion.
  • Damaged or deformed fittings (example: karabiners, screw link connectors, scaffold hooks, Adjusters)
  • Damage to the sheath and core of a kernmantle rope (example: rucking of the core detected during tactile inspection)
  • Internal damage to a cable-laid rope.

Harnesses and lanyards should be subjected to:

Pre use and after use inspections by the user

These checks are essential and should be carried out each time, before the equipment is used and such inspections should be tactile and visual. The whole assembly should be subject to the check, by passing it slowly through the hands (for example to detect small cuts of 1 mm in the edges, softening or hardening of fibres, ingress of contaminants). A visual check should be undertaken in good light and will normally take a few minutes.

Six monthly detailed inspections by a competent person

These more formal, in-depth inspections should be carried out periodically at a minimum of 6 monthly intervals as specified in the employer’s inspection regime and Australian Standards AS/NZS18912.4.

For frequently used Harnesses and lanyards it is suggested that consideration be given to reviewing the inspection time possibly to at least every three months, when the equipment is used in arduous environments (ego demolition, steel erection, scaffolding, steel skeletal masts/towers with edges and protrusions and chemicals)

Where the risk to equipment may be subjected to significant deterioration.

Record keeping

A record card, history sheet or similar record should be kept for each item of equipment detailing the maintenance and inspection history of the item and entry into service. This documentation shall be freely available to the operator and users for at least the life of the equipment. Data to be maintained on equipment includes the following where appropriate: –

  • manufacturer’s supplier’s or installer’s name and address;
  • manufacturer’s batch, serial or identifying number;
  • year of manufacture;
  • date of purchase;
  • date first put into service;
  • dates and details of inspections and services;
  • details of recommended connections to harnesses.;
  • type of anchorage to be used; and
  • suitability and limitations on various usages.

Fall protection is a major concern for anyone working at height, it is absolutely imperative to ensure your safety harness and its components are inspected before every use, without exception.

Employers and employees have to be educated on fall prevention and how to use and inspect fall arrest systems, without this knowledge how can you recognise the signs that your fall arrest equipment is safe or in fact not safe to use.

Injuries and fatalities related to falls are often preventable with the correct use of well-maintained safety equipment.

Crane Safety in Construction, research summary of March 2020 found between the years 2003 and 2015, 47 Australian workers were killed in incidents involving cranes (SafeWork Australia, 2016) not all related to falls, and on average, 240 serious injury claims arise from crane safety incidents every year (SafeWork Australia, 2019). The construction industry is of most concern, accounting for 22 crane related fatalities and continuously showing the highest rates of crane-related injuries (SafeWork Australia, 2016)

The analysis of SafeWork NSW data and the consultations with industry subject through research with matter experts both identified competence of the workforce to be a critical issue. However, this was traced back to issues inherent to the training provided, which persons working at height should be trained to provide competence in aspects of height safety likely to affect them working on or around cranes and the assets that are attached or working around.

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