Health and Safety Executive statistics show that falls from height remain the leading cause of workplace fatalities, and have been for a number of years. Fall protection inspection and certification can be an important way to mitigate this risk, but only if it’s done as more than a tick-box exercise, argues Stuart Pierpoint.
Annual or bi-annual fall protection inspections are vitally important. Not only are they a legal obligation but, ultimately, they help save lives. That’s why it pays for employers to partner with professionals with the necessary experience and competency to inspect and certify your fall protection equipment. Can you afford not to?
There is a wide spectrum of potential issues that may arise when inspecting fall protection systems and personal protective equipment (PPE), all of which need to be addressed.
About the author
Stuart Pierpoint is UK sales manager at HCL Safety
By its very nature, fall protection equipment can be exposed to the harshest conditions. It is also important to remember that the general state of PPE and systems can often be influenced by the competency of the person who has used the system and how frequently it has been used.
Approach to quality inspection
There are some initial questions to consider when inspecting systems and PPE. These include: has a system been accurately installed within the manufacturer’s guidelines? Has it been configured properly with the right components? Are calculations that help ensure safe levels of load absorption accurate?
If the answer to any of the above questions is “no”, then those working at height could be exposed to an unacceptable level of risk. Some key issues that quality inspection should cover therefore need to include:
- Inspection of all energy absorbers
- Checking cables for damage/signs of wear and tear
- Any signs of corrosion
- Re-tensioning of cables if required
- Inspecting lanyards and harnesses for cuts, fraying or breaks in the stitching
- Looking for signs of damage to fittings
By no means does quality inspection stop there. Sometimes, for instance, inspection may reveal that a system or equipment in place is not right for the application.
It is imperative that the PPE used by an operative is suitable for the type of system it is connecting to. Remember, as well as inspecting and certifying it, a high-quality fall protection expert should also be able help you specify and install the right equipment at the very outset of a project.
Systems exposed to poor weather conditions can degrade over time and, while to a certain extent this is a natural process, how quickly this occurs will depend on the quality of the materials that make up the fall protection equipment.
Not only does this re-emphasise the importance of regular quality inspection and certification, but it should also be a timely reminder to invest in high quality equipment. While the initial financial outlay may potentially be higher, ultimately you will likely reap the benefits of a lower total cost of ownership.
Good preparation begins with quality training
While safety for those that work at height sits with the site manager and/or health and safety officer (or equivalent) – and, of course, is an issue too for occupational health practitioners – the operative themselves should be able to take responsibility for their own safety.
Unfortunately, however, some people still lack the appropriate knowledge and/or training required to be able to accurately identify whether PPE or a fall protection system is safe to use. This is troubling, as failure to do so could be lethal. That’s why quality training is often the best form of first defence.
Remember the fundamentals
Getting the right equipment in place and remembering regular quality inspection and certification is important, of course. But it counts for little without all required risk assessments and safety methods in place.
All equipment should also undergo thorough pre-checks. Businesses with employees who work at height can employ an external company to come in and check PPE and systems. Some will train people within the company to check equipment themselves. Either way, proper checks need to have been done before use.
More than just a tick-box exercise
Finally, inspection and certification are critically important but, unfortunately, too many people too often still see it as a compliance issue, rather than the life-saving obligation that it is.
You can’t and wouldn’t drive a car without an MOT, for example. Why should fall protection equipment be any different?
If you own, specify or use fall protection equipment, you have an ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that inspections are carried out in an accurate and timely fashion. Lives may depend on it.