Falls from heights – roofs, ladders and scaffolds – cause more deaths than any other type of construction accident, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). On average, between 150 and 200 workers die from falls on the job each year, while 100,000 suffer injuries.
One of the ways to prevent these deaths and injuries is to provide workers with “personal fall arrest systems.” Generally speaking, such a system consists of a body harness, a lanyard or lifeline and a secured anchorage. It also includes ropes, straps, rings and hooks that connect the different components.
According to OSHA standards, if a worker faces the risk of fall that would be six feet or greater, the worker’s employer must provide such a personal fall arrest system. In the alternative, guardrails or a safety net system should be provided to protect against the dangerous consequences of a fall. The New York State Code of Rules and Regulations imposes similar requirements.
If the failure to provide these safety devices leads to the worker’s death or injury, then under New York Labor Law § 240, the owner of the construction site as well any contractors and/or sub-contractors can be held strictly liable. This is commonly known as New York’s historic “Scaffold Law.”
A personal fall arrest system must not only be provided, but it also must meet certain standards. If the system does not meet these standards, it is almost as if no safety device was provided to the worker at all.
The following are a few of the key elements of proper personal fall arrest system, based on the guidelines provided by OSHA:
This device consists of straps that a worker wears in his upper body and the upper portion of his legs. The harness should allow the worker to move freely while wearing it. It should also place minimum stress on the worker’s body if the worker falls. For instance, it should not restrict a worker’s breathing or cut off circulation. The attachment portion should be in the center of the back. A “body belt” is not an acceptable alternative to a body harness.
This is the part that connects the body harness to the anchorage or anchorage connector. The lifeline or lanyard should be rigged so that it prevents a worker from freefalling more than six feet or from reaching a lower level. It should also be made of sturdy synthetic fiber. According to OSHA, the lifeline or lanyard typically must have “a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds.”
This is the secured point that a lifeline or lanyard is attached to in the fall arrest system. Attaching the system to a guardrail or hoist is dangerous and prohibited. In most systems, a connector links the anchorage to the lifeline or lanyard. OSHA standards require that the anchorage be strong enough to support at least 5,000 pounds per each employee who is attached to it. It should also be independent of any anchorage that is being used to support a scaffold or platform. Typically, the anchorage should be positioned above the worker or at least high enough so the worker does not hit the next surface below.
Webbing, D-Rings, Snaphooks
All ropes and straps that are used to connect the different components of a personal fall arrest system should be made of sturdy synthetic fiber, while any D-rings or snaphooks should be made of “drop-forged, pressed or formed steel” or similar material, OSHA states. The rings and hooks should be strong enough to hold at least 5,000 pounds and “proof-tested” to hold at least 3,600 pounds without breaking or cracking.
Keep in mind: The fall arrest system should be routinely inspected. If any component of the system is damaged – for instance, a frayed lanyard – that component should be replaced before any worker is allowed to use it.
If these standards are not met, a worker’s health and safety are at risk. If a worker suffers injury or death due to this negligence, it will be important for the worker or his or her surviving family members to consult with an experienced construction accident attorney and learn how to protect their rights.