Scaffold safety

Scaffolders shouldn't count only on fall protection systems to keep them on high

According to the Scaffold Industry Association of Canada, over 70 per cent of all deaths related to scaffolding are caused by falls. The fact that people are falling from scaffolding when fall protection is available is surprising - until you talk to the experts.

The main problem today is that personal fall protection systems must be worn at the 10 ft height but don't work at that height when workers don't calculate the total fall distance before selecting equipment.

"Guys will tie off with a 6 ft long lanyard with a 4 ft long shock absorber. Taking body height into account, if they fall, they're going to contact the ground," says Edward Henry, health, safety and environment manager at Quinn Contracting Ltd., headquartered in Blackfalds, Alta.

Quinn Contracting is working with equipment manufacturer TRACTEL and DBI-SALA to modify a system with a self-retracting lanyard that works up to 10 ft and doesn't have a pouch-style shock absorber in line. In the meantime, Henry says that those working at heights should do a free-fall calculation that takes the distance from the ground into account.

"You can't just go up, tie off, and assume that you're protected," he says.

The problem could get worse if thresholds are lowered to 6 ft as other jurisdictions in the world have done. "The only way you could possibly hook on at that point is with a lanyard going to your feet," says John Rosenthal, president of Dunn-Wright Engineering Inc. in Alliston, Ont. "The lanyard would have to be 5 ft long to reach the D-ring in your back. You've got 5 ft for your body and then 5 ft for your lanyard and you're only at 6 ft. Certainly the lanyard would not help you."

Rosenthal would like to see a safe, effective, inexpensive advanced guardrail system to protect workers at 10 and 6 ft. Although he found one that fit the bill, the Government of Ontario wouldn't approve it and clearance remains a major issue.

Another major issue is what happens when a fall occurs. Many companies rely on the 911 system. Henry says that's a mistake.

"A lot of the fire departments haven't been trained in rescuing people from heights and may not even be able to access industrial sites," he explains. "When they show up on site they just do what they can, and it could cost somebody their life."

Henry tells of a firefighter attempting to rescue a worker dangling from scaffolding at an industrial site. Uneducated about how scaffolding works, the firefighter began hammering off the clamps of a structural support.

Companies and workers need to take more responsibility for worker safety even if they choose to rely on 911. The first step is to call the local fire department and ask if they rescue people and if they have the ability to get people down from heights.

The second step is to ensure that employees on site are able to get fallen workers down to the ground because it can take time for emergency personnel to reach sites, even in urban centres.

The Government of Alberta now allows frontal attachments on fall protection, which will make it easier for workers to self-rescue.

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