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Consequences of a fall from heights

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THE consequences of a fall from heights can be devastating – a situation one doesn’t want to think about.

When workers are required to use a fall arrest harness at work they understandably very rarely think of what would happen if they actually fell.

Yet, according to Clive Marple, Beaver Sales’ National Height Safety Manager, if workers asked themselves this question, they would perhaps think differently about the job they are doing and why they are wearing a fall arrest harness.

“As harnesses are becoming more and more prevalent due to the need to address risks and hazards, we need to be more aware of the consequences of actually having a fall,” said Mr Marple.

“The first and most important is when we are arrested from a fall that the shock loads into the body do not do us any harm.

“It is hard to imagine how we create shock loads in arresting a fall, but it is very easily achieved when trying to suddenly stop an accelerating body that is being pulled down to earth by gravity.

“This sudden stop can create forces in excess of 1000kg depending on the fall distance and your body weight.”

Mr Marple says that when looking at the force a 100kg person falling 1.5m can generate, a force of 900kg to 1100kg can be obtained in the attachment point and into the body.

“This is why shock absorbing lanyards are so important in any fall arrest system,” he said.

“The shock absorbing lanyard is designed to reduce the force in arresting a fall to below 600kg. This means that the sudden stop does not damage body parts.”

Fall consequences

Mr Marple emphasises an important point when it comes to height safety – when workers fit the harness do they think of the possibility of the load’s fall, which could be up to 600kg, and the effects of this load falling on the body?

“Workers must think of these questions,” he said. “How will the harness move on the body, what area of the body is going to feel the load, will the webbing cause injuries to me?”

Mr Marple states that these questions must be addressed.

“To avoid any injuries, we must fit the harness correctly, this not only means buckling the harness up right but adjusting the straps so that they are firm - this will ensure that when loaded, the effect on the body will be dramatically reduced,” he said.

Further fall consequences that need attention, according to Mr Marple, include:

* Fall clearances – for example, most harness users do not consider a situation where a 2m shock absorbing lanyard is used, a 6.5m clearance between the attachment point and the ground is needed. Beaver Sales sees this mistake very often, with users working at 3-4m heights with a 2m shock absorbing lanyard.

“It has to be the worst case scenario if a person uses all the correct equipment, however, when they fall they hit the ground as the lanyard is too long,” said Mr Marple.

* Objects in the way - the last thing workers want to do when working at heights is to look down, to see if there are any dangerous objects that they could possibly fall onto or ask themselves if they’re going to hit against anything that will damage them.

“This again needs to occur because if we identify any object that we would not want to fall onto then other precautions with regards to fall clearance, like shorter lanyards, need to be considered,” said Mr Marple.

* Overcoming the brain - this hazard can be as dangerous as the rest.

“The brain tells us that we are falling and to grab hold of something/anything, to reach out and stop from falling,” said Mr Marple.

“The consequences of this could also be damaging. We could grab an object that has sharp edges (roofing iron) or is energised (electrical) or better still we’ll think that our mate we are working with will hold me and the fact is that you both fall over the edge.”

Once workers have ensured that they can fall safely, they will then need to think about some other consequences such as how long they can stay suspended in the harness and how they are going to get down from wherever they end up, says Mr Marple.

“With any location, when wearing a fall arrest harness a rescue recovery plan must be in place and that everyone working in the area must be aware of what the rescue recovery plan is,” he said.

“Often the simplest plan can be the best plan, which could be having a ladder that can be used, or an EWP or scissor lift.

“With any plan it must be able to work, things like - can the machine get to all locations to carry out a rescue, must be considered.

“It is important that when putting on a harness to work at heights all the consequences must be considered, from fitting the harness correctly, through to if I fall, I can be rescued quickly and effectively.”

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