Think outside the harness
January 11, 2010
The only constant in a typical personal fall arrest system (PFAS) is a full-body harness. Other components, such as the connector and anchor, differ based on application and industry. When selecting equipment to protect workers at height, another consideration is a custom access solution.
Once limited to the toolbox of aircraft mechanics, custom access solutions are gaining traction in industries as varied as transportation, utilities, oil and gas, wind energy, construction and general industry. Designed for unique applications, custom access solutions can be used just about anywhere fall protection is needed.
What is custom access?
Custom access solutions can be mobile or fixed and provide passive or active fall protection. Custom access solutions include adjustable systems, mobile fall protection systems, mobile platforms, fixed platforms, docking systems, cantilevered systems, and fixed ladders and staircases. Custom solutions are typically used when both access and protection is needed at the work area or when there is no anchorage to tie off a PFAS.
Mobile custom access systems can be easily and quickly moved around the workplace by personnel or towed behind a maintenance vehicle, if equipped with proper accessories. Fixed custom access systems are permanently installed in a location where access is consistently needed, usually on structures that are also permanently installed.
With passive custom access solutions, fall protection takes the form of guardrails, so workers do not need to wear harnesses and tie off to the structure. Options include:
Adjustable systems provide the ability to operate at a wide range of platform heights. Usually mobile, this type of system gives workers access to various working positions â€” one ladder replaces multiple static-height ladders. Adjustable systems can incorporate a height-adjustable ladder and/or a scissor lift type platform. The adjustment is provided by either hydraulic hand pump or shop air.
Mobile platforms can be positioned in and around the work area for versatility. Mobile platforms can be fixed-height or height-adjustable for use with a variety of structures and/ or vehicles. These platforms incorporate step locks, locking wheels, and floor locks or screw jacks to stabilize and provide added safety for personnel. They can provide access to areas such as the top of a bus, truck or tank.
Docking systems wrap around a structure and provide platforms, often on several working levels, from which multiple personnel can work. Typically used to gain access for maintenance, repair or production work on aircraft and other vehicles, each system design is tailored to the application.
Cantilevered systems allow the user to be suspended over an area of interference. Systems can be mobile or fixed, and provide a way to reach over obstacles that standard access equipment cannot. Some cantilevered systems feature angled rest platforms that allow the worker to safely lean over an object to reach various components. This is ideal for cylindrical or spherical objects such as tankers, generators and engines.
Fixed platforms are designed to fit a single application, such as storage tank access or to cross over pipes and other obstacles. These systems become an integral part of the work environment. Fixed platforms are used throughout general industry in applications such as machine access in production facilities.
Fixed staircases allow for vertical access to rooftops and mezzanines. They are usually set up for frequent access; fixed ladders are used when only periodic access is needed. Because ladders travel 90-degrees vertically, they may require active fall protection in the form of a ladder safety system.
Active custom access solutions are called mobile fall protection systems, and the category includes ladder systems, horizontal rail systems and hybrid systems. Workers using active systems must tie off to the system, typically with a self-retracting lifeline because fall clearance is inherently limited. Mobile fall protection systems can be both height-adjustable and fixed-height. They provide the user with an overhead anchorage that can be moved from job to job and offer 100 percent fall protection from the ground up. These systems are ideal in situations where an overhead anchorage point cannot be reached or does not exist. They’re highly versatile and useful in industries such as construction and transportation, and provide access to a variety of large vehicles and equipment. Anywhere from one to four users can tie off to a mobile fall protection system.
Why go custom?
Custom access solutions are ideal for situations in which fall protection challenges can’t be solved with a traditional personal fall arrest system, or when long-term or frequent access to the fall hazard is needed. They can be positioned where the work needs to be performed and are engineered by professionals, taking the onus off the safety director for ensuring anchorage points are capable of withstanding fall arrest forces.