Set the bar high for Fall Protection

January 11, 2010
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James Luhia runs a tight ship. When you’re responsible for safeguarding the lives of 1,100 military and civilian employees at the U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command at Pearl Harbor, there is no margin for error.

Luhia, a fall protection program manager for NAVFAC Hawaii, surveys navy construction projects, inspecting safety systems, evaluating potential hazards, and providing targeted fall protection equipment and training for the workers who support the Naval Station Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Pacific fleet. Whether they are high-voltage linemen, carpenters, HAZMAT technicians, welders, engineers or independent contractors, without the proper preventive and protective measures, they could be exposed to risks working at heights on aerial lifts, cranes and elevated platforms.

“In the old days, workers used to run and hide when they saw the safety supervisor coming,” says Luhia, stopping to chat with a maintenance team headed for a rooftop ventilation system that towers 35 feet above the ground. “Today it’s a different story. They stop me and ask what’s new.”

What’s new?
The latest news in fall protection surrounds the November 2009 release of three new voluntary fall protection standards by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

Now part of the growing ANSI Z359 Fall Protection Code, the new standards address Specification and Design Requirements for Active Fall Protection (ANSI Z359.6); Connecting Components for Personal Fall Arrest Systems (ANSI Z359.12); and Personal Energy Absorbers and Energy Absorbing Lanyards (ANSI Z359.13). These three new standards join five other standards that were approved in 2007.

Long gone are the days when Luhia worked construction 40 stories up, fastening himself to a beam with a well-tied Navy knot. Innovations in personal protective equipment (PPE), custom-engineered fall protection/arrest systems, advanced testing and training, and products designed for ease of use and comfort have transformed fall protection over the past 20 years.

These improvements, together with new safety regulations and standards, have made significant inroads in preventing fatal falls and injuries in workplaces nationwide. Fatal falls, which had risen to an all-time high in 2007, declined 20 percent from 847 to 680 in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (August 2009).

Unfortunately, falls remain a leading cause of death and permanent injury. The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that falls are the number one killer in construction and the third most common cause of deaths in general industry. Scaffolding and fall protection continue to top the annual list of the “Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Federal OSHA Violations,” released at the NSC’s annual Safety Congress in October 2009. Ladder violations, moving up to number 7, are not far behind.

A common goal
Recognizing the devastating impact of slips, trips and falls, many proactive organizations are reaching beyond regulations for a more comprehensive approach to protecting workers at height, one that brings workers, employers and fall protection manufacturers together to address a common goal — fostering a safe work environment.

Working with its supplier and manufacturer on product inspection, identification and training, NAVFAC Hawaii recently completed a major changeout of safety harnesses, shock-absorbing lanyards, and fall protection kits, replacing them with applicable ANSI Z359 compliant products.

Luhia knows that equipment is only one part of the solution in keeping workers safe. Employees have to understand how and when to use it. In consultations on job sites, and in regular training sessions held on the first Thursday of every month, Luhia and his staff show workers how to anticipate hazards and provide hands-on training in the proper use of their fall protection equipment.

“We already have safety equipment and standard operating procedures that are OSHA compliant, but we are tasked with staying on top of things,” says Luhia, who looks to the new ANSI Z359 standards as an authoritative document, even though compliance is voluntary. OSHA takes ANSI’s recommendations seriously, he said, pointing out that many OSHA regulations are eventually adopted from ANSI standards.

With a safety strategy like this, it’s no wonder NAVFAC Hawaii received the prestigious Department of the Navy 2009 Safety Excellence Award for Safety Ashore. It was the third in a sweep of major safety awards last year.

Resource

Click on the ASSE Resource Center at www.ishn.com, click on “Standards,” and click on the description of ANSI/ASSE Z359.2- 2007 Minimum Requirements for a Comprehensive Managed Fall Protection Program.

SIDEBAR: Three New Standards Strengthen ANSI/ASSE Z359 Fall Protection Code

ANSI and ASSE have released three new standards for inclusion in the growing Z359 Fall Protection Code for General Industry, a series of voluntary consensus standards developed by teams of experienced safety practitioners. They are:

ANSI Z359.6-2009 Specification and Design Requirements for Active Fall Protection Systems is intended for engineers with expertise in designing fall protection systems. It specifies requirements for the design and performance of complete active fall protection systems, including travel restraint and fall arrest systems.

ANSI Z359.12-2009 Connecting Components for Personal Fall Arrest Systems establishes the requirements for performance, design, marking, test methods and inspection of connectors used in PPE. Connectors include items such as snap hooks, carabiners, D-rings, O-rings, buckles and adjuster oval rings.

ANSI Z359.13-2009 Personal Energy Absorbers and Energy Absorbing Lanyards establishes requirements for the performance, design, marking, qualification, instructions, inspection, maintenance and removal from service of energy absorbing lanyards and personal energy absorbers for users within the capacity range of 130 to 310 lbs. (59-140 kg).

The new standards are based on years of testing and research; accumulated knowledge in the industry of how products are used; the environments in which they are used; and common mistakes in everyday usage.

The three new fall protection standards join five other standards that were approved in 2007. First introduced in 1992 and later revised in 1999, the ANSI Z359 Fall Protection Code has been adopted by hundreds of organizations. The code serves as a guide for fall protection equipment manufacturers, workers at height and their employers. Nine more standards, addressing specific fall protection components, are currently being developed by ANSI committees.

The complete updated Z359 Fall Protection Code is available from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), www.asse.org.

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