As morbid as this will sound, it will be easy to remember: If you will be working or walking on a surface that is more than six feet above a lower surface, you must have fall arrest protection to safeguard you from going six feet under. The harsh and horrible reality is that not all workers at the asphalt plant consider this before climbing to the top of the silo. Is the safety railing enough to keep you from tumbling to your death should you slip or trip up there? This month’s focus on the asphalt plant gives us the perfect excuse to turn our safety spotlight on fall arrest protection.
Here are a few direct quotes from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation part titled “Duty to have fall protection” to highlight the employer’s responsibility for safety in this area.
1926.501(b)(1): Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.
1926.501(b)(3): Each employee in a hoist area shall be protected from falling 6 feet (1.8 m) or more to lower levels by guardrail systems or personal fall arrest systems. If guardrail systems, [or chain, gate, or guardrail] or portions thereof, are removed to facilitate the hoisting operation (e.g., during landing of materials), and an employee must lean through the access opening or out over the edge of the access opening (to receive or guide equipment and materials, for example), that employee shall be protected from fall hazards by a personal fall arrest system.
1926.501(b)(4)(i): Each employee on walking/working surfaces shall be protected from falling through holes (including skylights) more than 6 feet (1.8 m) above lower levels, by fall arrest systems, covers, or guardrail systems erected around such holes.
What these excerpts should bring to mind is the plant has multiple high points—multiple areas that are six feet higher than the surface below them—in addition to the top of the silo. Workers may be conditioned to put on a fall harness before climbing the steps to work on the transfer conveyor or other components 40+ feet in the sky, but consider the multitude of other plant components that require routine maintenance, inspection and cleaning.
Does your company’s safety culture instill in each worker the instinctual habit of putting on fall protection before going to the top of the baghouse? Think of other components that require a scissor lift to reach.
Are the cold feed bins set on a hill to facilitate loading, thus one side offers a short, crippling fall and the other side’s fall could be catastrophic? If you just thought that it’s a waste of time to don fall protection before inspecting bridging in a cold feed bin, your safety program needs a review. It’s not a waste of time to protect a worker’s livelihood or life.
OSHA has a technical manual you can access online, for free. Section five, chapter four, discusses fall protection specifically. Visit here for guidance on fall protection, fall arrest systems, how to help a worker who has fallen, and how to measure/assess fall hazards.
During winter maintenance, you have the perfect opportunity to slow the typically frenetic pace of asphalt production, and take the time to train good safety habits into workers. While a percentage of the workforce may be on leave for the non-paving season, those who are on site deserve attention to safe details they can carry through the rest of the year.
Get Personal for Fall Safety
Remember, just because you have a guardrail atop the silo, tank, baghouse or other plant component, doesn’t mean you’re safe. Leaning and stretching to perform work, tripping over a tool or cord, or slipping on the very material you’re cleaning up, could put you in extreme danger. This is when you must have fall protection on your body, affixed to a secure point, to prevent tragedy. The components of a personal fall arrest system (PFAS) include:
- An anchor—“Anchors are fixed to a strong structural member. Anchors are not effective if they are attached to weak materials.”
- Connectors—You want to ensure all components are compatible; you can’t necessarily mix-and-match brands.
- A full-body harness—“A safe and effective harness will fit and is adjusted so that all straps are snug. Dangling leg straps or arm straps are signs that the harness is not being worn correctly.”
- The line—This could be a shock-absorbing lanyard, a retractable lifeline, a deceleration device, or a combination thereof.
Source: OSHA Technical Manual