Being safe is the most important rule on a jobsite and OSHA cites falls as the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. Most of us are required to wear hardhats, gloves and safety glasses, and anyone working on lifts, ladders or scaffolding must wear safety equipment and understand the ABCD’s of Fall Protection.

ABCD stands for: Anchorage, Body Support, Connection and Descent/Rescue. These individual components alone won’t protect a worker in case of a fall, however, together they comprise a Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS) that, when installed and used properly, will provide maximum protection.

A is for Anchorage

Like all anchors, the PFAS anchorage is the last line of protection. The anchorage is critical because in case of a fall, the worker will be suspended from this point until rescue. OSHA guidelines require that PFASs are ‘capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds per employee attached.’ Therefore, the anchorage must be strong enough to withstand this level of support. It should also be located at a safe distance from obstacles in case of worker fall and suspension. Potential onsite anchorage includes: I-beams, girders or columns. There are two main types of anchors systems:

  • Fixed Point Anchors– a certified anchor point to an existing overhead structure
  • Mobile Point Anchors– allows for movement along beam and trolley systems

The anchorage connector is the component that the connecting device is attached to the anchor. This could be a beam anchor, cross-arm strap, choker, or other secure device.

B is for Body Support

Body Support is what the worker actually wears. Proper body support, wear or gear requires the use of a full body protective harness. The full body support system supports the torso and distributes force across shoulders, thighs and pelvis in case of a fall.

The full body harness has a center back fall arrest attachment that connects to the connecting devices with a D-ring, chest straps in the front, and straps that go around the upper thigh and buttocks. Proper fit is critical when selecting and wearing a body support system. To ensure a proper fit, check that the center back D-ring is positioned in the middle back between the shoulder blades

In a fall  an ill-fitting body support harness can restrict blood flow and circulation, causing loss of consciousness. If the leg straps are not worn properly, the harness can crush the femoral arteries after a fall cutting off circulation. Chest straps should rest in the mid-chest area. The chest strap should be fastened correctly, as it can ride up the neck in the event of a fall.

You can conduct this 5-point check to ensure proper full body harness fit:

  1. Check that the D-ring is positioned between the shoulder blades.
  2. Tug at the shoulder straps to ensure they cannot be pulled off the shoulders.
  3. Double check the pelvic strap under the buttocks.
  4. Ensure there is a four-finger space between leg strap and leg.

Conduct a visual assessment of the harness checking all stitching, straps, etc.

C is for Connection

Finally, the anchorage and the body support are joined together with the help of connecting devices. The connecting devices are the literal lifeline between the two other points of the fall arrest system. All connection devices work best when the anchorage point is directly overhead. There are different types of connecting devices, such as:

  • Shock absorbing lanyards
  • Non-shock absorbing lanyards
  • Self-retracting lifelines (SRLs)

Most commonly, workers need a shock absorbing lanyard. This is normally a 6-foot line that secures the worker’s full body harness to the anchorage. These have deceleration devices built into them that safely slow down a fall.  

Self-retracting lifelines allow greater mobility for the worker and activate after just two feet of a fall (shock absorbing lanyards activate after a six-foot fall arrest).

D is for Descent/Rescue

After any fall, suspension trauma can set in when a worker has fallen and is suspended in the harness before rescue. It is important to have a plan in place to rescue a worker after a fall occurs. If the worker is alert and uninjured, a Self-Rescue is possible. This method is used by 90% of fall victims. Most often, if the fall is less than 3’ the worker can climb back up to the point of origin.

If they have fallen more than 3’ a alternative rescue may be needed so a rescue plan should be in place.  Most frequently there is a manlift on site that can be used to rescue the fallen worker but if not then alternative methods must be used.  

Once the fallen worker is safe, a medical inspection must be done to determine if there are any related injuries. Fall protection equipment (Harness and Lanyard) must be thrown away after being used in a fall.

The Right Equipment

All fall protection systems should be installed by qualified personnel and checked regularly for maximum worker safety. Components from one manufacturer should not be mixed with components from another; individual fall safety systems are designed to work together. Always evaluate site conditions while hooking up fall protection safety equipment. When inspecting fall arrest equipment look for fraying of lanyards, check the D-rings, and ensure body harness straps are intact.

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