Fall Protection

This afternoon we received a company-wide e-mail notifying us of news that a blue collar worker for the city of Montreal fell 30 feet to his death today. It was a stark reminder for us to be vigilant and to take the proper precautions when we are out on job sites.

For me it hit close to home for various reasons. The most apparent was that I had spent the day actually working on a project involving fall protection. It has been a line of work that I have been involved with on and off since coming to Montreal. It is also because it arrives quite often that we are required to inspect buildings that are in an unfinished state of completion or inspect areas where fall protection is necessary.

Most projects involving structural engineering have sufficient factors of safety and are over-designed either due to maintenance issues (avoiding cracking in walls or sagging of floors) or due to constructability. Even when the structural components of a building are designed close to the calculated loads, the factors of safety take into account items such as installation in less than ideal conditions, items not quite placed where specified, material strengths which are not quite as specified, or minor defects in the material. Plus the loads we use to design the buildings will rarely if ever be seen. But we need all of these in order to ensure that in the rare possibility of a perfect storm, that the structure and the building will continue standing. This very rare possibility limits the stress worrying about the collapse of structures you design.

With fall protection the stress is higher both because there is a very real danger that someone can get hurt or killed if the system you design fails, but also because you can only provide the tools necessary for a workers protection. If they are not trained properly and they do not follow procedures set in place, they are at risk. Sometimes I found myself trying to find solutions that are ‘idiot-proof’. But at some point I realized in some situations that’s not possible because an effort by the user needs to be made for their own safety. Regardless, if someone gets injured or worse, you are going to wonder if something could have been done to protect them.

In the field, I’ve seen so many instances where the worker either did not know the safety measures or procedures or felt that in order to complete their work that they could circumvent the measures and watch out for themselves. Coming across projects with the latter are the toughest. We were asked to install the necessary equipment, but we are told the workers would likely not use them since they felt it a nuisance. It’s a tough thing to hear and a tough thing to see.

From what I’ve heard about the accident today, a simple measure could have been taken. A temporary guardrail like you see around open manholes could have been put in place. Also one of the things we are taught when working on construction sites is to only walk forward. But this was not a construction site and the location of the opening in relation to apparent risk depends on the configuration of the site.

It’s difficult to hear about accidents like this because usually they are preventable. There is a body of knowledge out there that many people don’t know, don’t know sufficiently, or don’t realize it’s importance. Even for myself, I’m still learning about fall protection. Even today.

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~ by Frank on April 22, 2010.

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