Whether you’re working on a roof or a scaffolding structure, operating from heights is always risky business. While workers can suffer severe injuries from falling only a short distance, the risk of injuries and even death is significantly increased the higher workers operate above ground. Consequently, fall protection is an extremely important aspect to scaffolding safety and proper fall protection procedures must be implemented on all construction sites.
Still, one of the biggest scaffolding violations is failing to meet fall protection requirements particularly when erecting or dismantling scaffolding structures. In general, scaffolders are exposed to fall hazards in the following scenarios:
- During the installation or removal of scaffold planks (internal fall)
- From the ends or open sides of the scaffold (external fall)
- When climbing from one lift of the scaffold to the next (climbing fall)
It’s vital that workers who erect scaffolding install a full deck of planks at each floor or lift and install planks on the lift or floor above whilst standing on a fully-decked platform. On the other hand, workers who dismantle scaffolding must remove planks whilst standing on a fully-decked platform immediately below. This ensures that no workers can suffer from internal falls and all platforms are fully decked to prevent any unnecessary delays during a project.
Guardrails should be installed during the erection process where a person or object can fall more than two metres and should remain in position until that part of the scaffold is eventually dismantled. Each scaffold structure should have a risk assessment to determine the feasibility of any given guardrail’s effectiveness with the suggested configuration. The most effective guardrails systems are:
- Advance guardrail system
Guardrails are erected at each bay from the ground level and then moved upwards one lift at a time (after the integral guardrails are installed). The system is then attached to the top lift and moved down when the scaffolding is dismantled.
- Sequential erection method
This method involves installing standards and guardrails onebay at a time or installing guardrails alone where standards are already in place.
Regardless of which approach is used, it’s vital that the risk of external falls is minimised as much as possible.
Appropriate access systems must be in place to minimise the risk of climbing falls when workers are moving from one lift to the next. Under no circumstances should workers climb the scaffold framework to access the next lift as this puts the worker at great risk of falling from heights. Appropriate access systems should be in the form of a stairway or ladder access that is installed incrementally as the scaffold progresses, as opposed to being added at a later stage.
Fall arrest systems
Where a worker needs to work over a void or lean out from the scaffold without the protection of a guardrail, safety harnesses must be worn for protection. Keep in mind that safety harnesses can increase the risk of injury if used incorrectly so all harnesses and lanyards should comply with, be inspected in accordance with, and be used in compliance withAS/NZ 1891.
Any anchorage point should be positioned above or directly behind the worker and must have a working load of no less than 1,500kg. Where vertical mobility is required, inertia reels should be used. When using fall arrest systems, workers must not be at risk of a fall prior to being securely connected to the anchorage point or after being disconnected from the anchorage point.
Implementing appropriate fall protection measures is vital to the health and safety of workers and too many construction sites have failed to meet these requirements in recent years. If you need any information about proper fall protection procedures, get in touch with the team at Uni-Span by phoning our staff on 1800 822 825.