How to work safely at heights in Aviation

Working safely at heights is at the forefront for regulators and inspectors. Recognizing that even relatively small falls can result in devastating injuries, lost production and large fines, employers are more likely than ever to look for different options of fall protection to keep workers safe.
Providing safety for workers at heights usually begins with evaluating the applicable legislation – this is when the “ do we need fall protection” question arises. Typically the default height is given by federal (OSHA) or regional regulations which are cited as the rule, when in fact they are only a starting point or a minimum requirement. If the only target is to be “tied off above 6 feet,” the employer is missing the point. They are aiming for “compliance” rather than “safety,” and workers may not be receiving all the protection they need.
A safety-based approach looks beyond the minimum requirements to see what is truly “safe.” Just because regulation fall protection is required above 6 feet, does not mean that a fall from 5 feet is perfectly safe.

Risk of Injury

Anyone who has ever slipped on an icy sidewalk can verify that there is indeed a risk of injury, even at height “zero.” As workers get higher above grade, the energy involved in a fall increases, as does the potential for more serious injury. When there are any additional risks, more stringent requirements need to be considered.

When evaluating any elevated work environment, the minimum height for fall protection must be considered, but for work situations near or even below that height, there are often many opportunities to work safer. With toolboxes, equipment, or other hazards near where a worker may fall. A proper assessment is required to determine what risks are present for the employee during a given task, including getting to or from the work area.
Once the risks are more fully understood, a more organized approach to finding solutions can be employed.
The standard hierarchy of fall protection solutions:

Elimination of Hazards

Whenever possible, remove the fall hazard itself.
If there is no fall hazard, there’s no fall.

Passive Systems

Do not require the use of Personal Protective Equipment or active participation from the worker. Include Guardrails or Netting Systems. A preferred choice for its ease of use without the need for additional training and PPE.

Fall Restraint

Uses personal fall arrest equipment (harness, lanyard, a. anchor point) to stop the user from reaching the edge. This type of ttying-offi p the user from falling in the first place.

Fall Arrest

When all other solutions are infeasible. Fall arrest uses the same equipment as fall restraint but the fall protection equipment engages after the fall happens When it engages, the equipment slows the workers descent, bringing them to a safe stop.

If the work must be completed with a worker at heights, the next simplest solution is to provide a safe work area with a fixed barrier between the worker and any potential hazard. This could be a fixed or mobile work platform with guardrails to prevent the worker from accidentally falling from the work platform.
The use of a stable work platform with guardrails provides the worker with the simplest solution for working at heights, effectively simulating on-the-ground conditions. Many situations however, utilize a mobile platform, but then require a worker to lean out, or climb up on the rails to reach the work area.

Fall Arrest vs. Fall Restraint Systems

When the work is located in an area where a flat, stable platform is not possible, the next step is to provide a system that will get the worker to the area, but prevent them from falling by incorporating an active restraint system. Custom access ladders or some horizontal lifeline systems can be set up so workers can reach their work without falling.

As we move from a barrier to a restraint system, the worker has greater responsibility to ensure they are wearing the harness and actively secure the system. The system must be set up so that when working, the range of motion does not allow the worker to ever be in a situation where a fall is possible. This ability to fall is the critical distinction between fall arrest and fall restraint – despite the two terms being commonly interchanged.
In cases where workers must be at heights, and need the freedom to move around with the potential to fall, a fall arrest system is employed. Fall arrest systems are far more complex as they must consider a worker’s free-fall distance, clearance, energy and more. These systems require the most input from end-users, as they must not only be designed, inspected and operated properly, but the subsequent rescue is a mandatory requirement for use of a fall arrest system. If a worker can fall, there must be a way to safely get them to the ground.
A safety-based approach is admittedly more time-consuming, and involves evaluating each task, but has the more enviable target, which is to ensure the job is being done safely.

To view the full article in AMT Magazine, click here.

Brad Lawrence, P.Eng., is a Senior Engineer (Fall Protection and Safety Audits) of Liftsafe Group of Companies. He has been a critical member of the company since 2007 and manages the Fall Protection Division at Liftsafe Fall Protection Inc. As an active participant on the CSA Standards Committee for Fall Protection Solutions, he utilizes his extensive experience to assist in developing fall protection standards throughout Ontario.