If a worker falls from an elevated position, it could result in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that questions the safety of the work site. Oftentimes, a fall is due to the lack of, or improperly used, fall protection (FP) equipment.

By eliminating six major recurring errors in fall protection, your company can improve its safety record, and perhaps save lives. From the bottom to the top, let’s look at these six critical fall protection mistakes.

Mistake no. 6: “Don’t need it today.”

The need for consistency in using fall protection is often ignored. It’s important to have a plan and implement it, and that means wearing fall protection equipment every day. For companies that employ FP equipment on a regular basis, use full-body harnesses made with stretchable webbing for improved comfort and safety and that offer wearers the freedom to bend and twist.

Mistake no. 5: “Which way does this go?”

Although more workers today are using fall protection gear, it’s not always used correctly. Many workers fail to adjust the leg straps on harnesses, or they don’t properly position the back D-ring. In many instances, workers wear harnesses too loose. These are the things safety managers have to watch constantly.

While misusing harnesses is a big mistake, many contractors buy incorrect equipment for specific applications. One common example is that many contractors buy shock-absorbing lanyards and use them in areas with inadequate fall clearance. Instead, a retractable lifeline or a fall limiter should be used.

Mistake no. 4: “Still looks OK to me.”

Knowing when a product should be removed from service is vital to safe working conditions. Equipment must be inspected regularly. Using FP equipment past its useful life, especially a lanyard, is a big mistake.

A few of the things to be on the lookout for include fraying, cuts and deformed metal hardware. Also, exposure to heat and chemicals can cause additional damage. Signs of deployment mean safety equipment can no longer be used. For example, some tubular shock-absorbing lanyards have a warning flag that is visible after the shock absorber has been activated. If this occurs, the unit must be taken out of service.

The cardinal rule: If in doubt, throw it out.

Mistake no. 3: “Instructions? What instructions?”

Industry professionals identify lack of instructions — in the appropriate language — as a key reason equipment is misused or not used at all. Safety directors need to check the instructions provided with equipment. Does the fall protection equipment provide instructions in English, French and Spanish?

Mistake no. 2: “This anchorage will do.”

Selecting inadequate anchorages is a major problem. The best harness with the best lanyard or lifeline cannot arrest a fall if unsuitable anchorages are used. An anchorage must support 5,000 pounds for a single tie-off point for one individual. In all cases, the freefall should be limited to six feet or less. An anchorage should be positioned directly overhead whenever possible to avoid a swing fall injury, and anchorages should be selected based on how a rescue would be performed.

Workers frequently misjudge the distance of a freefall, which, according to OSHA, is a maximum of six feet. OSHA 29 CFR 1926.500 Subpart M says that manufacturers of self-retracting lanyards are required to state the dynamic rating. For example, the Miller MiniLite Fall Limiter meets 900 pounds, so the anchorage needs to handle twice the anticipated load — 1,800 pounds — in a vertical fall. The anchorage must be certified by a competent person.

Another common anchorage concern in construction is the misuse of horizontal lifeline systems. Concerns about cost are forcing many companies to design their own lifelines on bridges and other elevated work, even though they are often illegal. They are not using energy absorbers, adjusting the cable to the proper tension or using the proper cable size.

Mistake no. 1: “Let’s limit the fall.”

People are always ready to buy a harness and a retractable lanyard and tie-off rather than try other fall protection options first. The most common problem in fall protection: looking to limit the fall rather than eliminate it.

When identifying a fall hazard, analyze the likelihood of fatal or serious injury, as well as the amount of time employees will be exposed to the hazard. Basically, you want to eliminate the fall by changing the work process or environment.

Have a well-thought out, written fall protection plan. Eliminate some hazards, like scaffolding, and prevent other fall hazards using restraint systems. Use personal protective equipment to control possible falls.

SIDEBAR: Three steps in fall protection:

1. Eliminate a fall hazard entirely. 2. Prevent a fall from happening. 3. Provide personal fall arrest equipment.