In many industries, it is likely that a time is going to come when you are asked to work at heights. In construction, you can almost guarantee it. When it happens, you may find it’s something you’re not comfortable doing or you could find that it comes naturally, and you tackle it with no hesitation. Regardless, whether you feel you need it or not, no employer can put you in this situation without properly preparing you. What follows are some things you should be considering before climbing your way up.
You Need to Look Out for You
Don’t kid yourself: when we talk about working at heights, we are literally discussing a life and death situation. One wrong move could be fatal. That’s why, no matter what anybody tells you, you need to make sure that you are working safe. Don’t rely on others to tell you that things are good or not good. Educate yourself. Know what fall hazards you’re likely to encounter in your work. Ensure that either they are properly protected or you are. If not, refuse to work until one or the other is taken care of. In the end, no matter how we want safety to be everyone’s responsibility, your life is your own. Nobody will look out for it as well as you will and nobody will be with you every moment of your work day – except you.
Knowledge is Not Only a Good Idea, It’s Required
Working at heights? If so, you’d better be trained. It’s really as simple as that. The OSHA regulations for fall protection clearly require that anybody working at heights must be trained in the hazards they may encounter, what is being done to mitigate those hazards, and how to properly care for and use any personal protective equipment they will need on the job. Again, this is not optional. While the length of training could vary depending on the worker’s experience, what the worker will be doing, and what their role is, training is still required. Why? Hand a full-body harness to a worker who has never worn one before and tell them to put it on. Within a minute you will see why people need to be trained.
Take Nothing For Granted – Especially Your Equipment
Equipment doesn’t just stay in great condition. Weather, job site chemicals, repetitive use and a number of other factors can affect it. As already stated, your safety is first and foremost your own responsibility. Never begin work without first inspecting your equipment (frankly, this is an important tip whether we’re talking about fall protection or any other type of safety). In most cases, a false sense of security could be worse than no security at all. If your equipment is bad and you have not discovered this through inspection, you might take chances you shouldn’t be taking, believing that your equipment would protect you should the worst occur. Spending a couple of minutes prior to the start of work making sure everything is good to go could end up saving your life.
Remember, though, that you can’t inspect something if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This harkens back to the education and knowledge we discussed previously. Ensure that you are being properly trained on what to look for when you are inspecting your fall protection equipment. From the condition of buckles and grommets, to stitching, to burn marks, to fraying, you need to know what you’re looking at.
Wear PPE Properly
Once you have been trained in the use of your Personal Protective Equipment, make sure that you’re using it properly. There have been many fatalities in which the victim was wearing a harness but had failed to hook his/her lanyard to the anchor point. A lanyard does you no good when it’s attached to your own harness, just like safety glasses do you no good when they’re on top of your head. You are being issued fall protection equipment for a reason: to protect your life. There is no more compelling argument than that for why you should wear it and wear it properly.
Don’t Take Chances
I mentioned earlier that with fall protection on, you might take chances you wouldn’t take otherwise. However, my best advice for taking chances? Don’t. Fall protection exists to save you in the event of an accidental fall, but there’s no reason to work to increase your chances of falling. Injuries and even death can still occur if you were to fall and be saved by a harness and lanyard. Suspension trauma and internal injuries are just two of the things that could happen even when the equipment works properly. Do everything you can to work safely and never intentionally put yourself in harm’s way.
Know What Other Hazards You’re Encountering
When working at heights, it’s easy to become very distracted by the heights themselves. So distracted, in fact, that you forget that falls aren’t the only hazard you could encounter. Try to make sure that you remain focused on the work so you can keep yourself protected at all times. Hot work, electrical work, fire hazards, and more don’t go away just because you’re working at heights.
Be Aware of Those Around You
There’s also a good chance you are not working alone. Remember that having other people around is important when working at heights so that rescue can be summoned if needed. However, other people also means other chances for human error. Always be aware of what is going on around you, who is working where, and how your work – and your life – could be affected. If something is happening that increases your chance of falling, maybe you can stop what you’re doing until the other task is done or find a safer way to approach the work.
In the end, falls continue to be one of the biggest killers of workers in the United States and, by far, the number one killer of construction workers. This is a trend that has been continuing for years. Take the responsibility for your own life. Remember that no human being can fly and so-called “perfect balance” means nothing when you’re struck by something or you get light-headed. And remember, every person who has ever died from a fall has been able to say, prior to that last fatal moment, “I’ve been doing it this way for x number of years and I’ve never fallen before.”