The construction industry is one of the most dangerous workplaces in the United States, with falls to a lower level being the leading cause of accidental death among construction workers. According to a report from The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, there were 1,008 construction fatalities, of which 353 were due to falls to a lower level. These statistics highlight the importance of personal fall protection systems in the workplace, because fatal injuries resulting from falls to a lower level are preventable.

Personal fall protection systems

A personal fall protection system is a system of equipment designed to protect workers from falling while working at heights. It comprises several components that work together to prevent injuries in the event of a fall. The equipment used within each fall protection system varies by the needs of the application. Below are some of the most common components included in personal fall protection systems:

The full-body harness is the most crucial component of a personal fall protection system, and it must fit correctly to prevent serious injury. It should be comfortable and fully adjustable to fit the worker's body and distribute any forces exerted during a fall. It should also be made of durable materials that can withstand harsh conditions. This is a required part of every fall protection system. 

A lanyard is a flexible line that connects the full-body harness to the anchor point. Lanyards come in different lengths, materials, and types, and workers should choose the right one for the job. A short lanyard is best suited for work that requires the worker to be close to the anchor point, while a longer one is better suited for work that requires more movement.

An anchor point is a secure attachment point to which the lanyard is connected. An anchor point can be a fixed structure, such as a steel beam or a roof anchor, or it can be a mobile anchorage device that can be moved to different locations.

A lifeline is a flexible line that runs along the length of the worker's path and is designed to provide continuous protection. It can be fixed or mobile and can be anchored to a fixed structure or a mobile anchorage device. Lifelines should be made of durable materials that can withstand harsh conditions.

A deceleration device is any mechanism, such as a rope grab, rip-stitch lanyard, specially woven lanyard, tearing or deforming lanyard, or automatic self-retracting lifeline, which serves to scatter a large amount of energy during a fall arrest. A mechanical rope grab is used to attach lanyards to vertical lifelines.

Shock absorbers are always strongly recommended, especially when using wire rope lifelines. Shock absorbers can reduce fall arrest loads by as much as 50%.

In addition to these components, other personal protective equipment (PPE) such as helmets, safety glasses, and gloves are essential for worker safety. Workers should always wear appropriate PPE to prevent injuries while working at heights.

Routine inspections, maintenance, & storage

Over time, the components listed above can wear down and become damaged, compromising their effectiveness and making them unreliable in the event of a fall. That is why OSHA requires that personal fall protection systems be inspected thoroughly before each use on every shift and after any impact loading occurs. Failure to prove compliance with OSHA inspection regulations can result in penalties & fines.

Inspecting a personal fall protection system involves checking each component for any signs of damage, including fraying, cuts, burns from welding spatter or sparks, missing or distorted buckles, D-rings, rivets, and more. Inspections should be recorded either on paper or electronically to ensure that workers are complying with OSHA requirements, and that every piece of equipment is in good condition.

The proper care and maintenance of personal fall protection systems is essential for worker safety. This means storing it in a clean, dry place and not exposing it to extreme temperatures or sunlight. Any contaminated equipment should be cleaned before use, and workers should be trained on how to inspect, use and care for all components.

In conclusion, personal fall protection systems are crucial in preventing injuries and fatalities resulting from falls to a lower level, especially in the construction industry. Proper inspection, care, and maintenance of the equipment ensures that it remains in good & working condition, totally reliable in the event of an accidental fall.