As the yelling starts, the department manager and the managing director in Kärnten, Austria are busy in a meeting. Shocked heads jerk upwards, and for a moment the room is still. The first to jump up from their chairs then sprint into the production hall below.
The sight of the worker dangling there in his safety harness from the ceiling fixture at a height of 10 metres is terrifying. His face is pallid and he seems to have lost consciousness. Beneath him, colleagues run chaotically around the enormous machine and bellow instructions which are almost incomprehensible. “Get him down, for God’s sake”, the managing director’s voice thunders through the space. “OK, boss”, a technician calls back. “But how?”
This situation is a classic case of the illusion of safety, i.e. insufficient or incorrect safety precautions. The fallen employee certainly secured himself using personal protective equipment; however, real fall protection consists of many coordinated protective measures which must be planned and implemented systematically.
In this example, these would be rapid and clearly regulated rescue measures, as well as wearing the safety harness correctly to avoid losing consciousness caused by cable strangulation. The illusion of safety in industrial operations conceals the danger from a fall from height which has disastrous consequences. In order to avoid this, companies require an authoritative and reliable safety concept.
Read on and find out how to convert the illusion of safety into real fall protection in industrial operations.
How does the illusion of safety arise in industrial operations?
In the case of the fallen worker in the industrial operation in Kärnten, safety precautions did exist, but they were insufficient or incorrect, and so the fallen person became endangered. Safety experts refer to such a case as an illusion of safety.
The technical industrial safety measures such as cable, attachment points, and barriers were indeed present, and the worker was also wearing his personal protective equipment, but the safety harness was incorrectly attached, and so it interrupted the worker’s blood supply as a result of the fall. In addition, the organisational industrial safety measures were insufficient, because no-one present knew what the rescue plan was, and they were unable to immediately rescue the fallen colleague from the life-threatening situation.
What are the dangers concealed in industry by an illusion of safety?
Because the first-aiders reached the incident quickly, it was possible to tend to the fallen service technician quickly, and he left hospital after a few days. However, not all industrial accidents turn out so fortunately, and the dangers to companies from an illusion of safety should not be underestimated:
- Injury or death of the employee because of a fall from height
- High costs from the injured person’s absence, machine stoppages, increasing insurance premiums, etc.
- Investigation and potential consequences of negligent conduct with respect to the responsible person, e.g. managing director or safety expert
- Loss of image for the company
- In the worst case: Threat to the existence of the industrial operation
What is the STOP principle and what role does it play for fall protection?
The STOP principle equates to compliance with the correct sequence of all industrial safety measures which create an appropriate and effective fall protection system. STOP is the acronym for Substitution, Technical, Organisational, and Personal industrial safety measures.
In order to systematically avert safety risks, the sequence of the measures is decisive. We will take an industrial hall as an example. It contains large, dangerous machines which may be accessed by anyone wearing personal protective equipment such as safety spectacles. Here, access restrictions, an important organisational industrial safety measure, are ignored, and the hall would be considered as unsafe. Because every operation has individual requirements, trained specialised experts develop suitable special solutions together with their customers, with the result that the necessary safety standards are complied with at all times.
Which safety measures are included in fall protection?
Real fall protection in industrial operations requires a holistic safety concept, because not only is the illusion of safety dangerous for the employees working on the job, but also for the responsible persons and the company itself. In addition to assessment and planning, the following safety measures are therefore necessary:
Substitution refers to the replacement of sources of danger, i.e. these are either completely eliminated or else “deactivated” to the extent that no further hazard exists to persons or physical objects. For example, caustic or poisonous cleaning agents are replaced with neutral agents.
2. Technical industrial safety measures
To be able to install an appropriate and effective fall protection system, it is essential to use high-quality and above all proven products such as anchorage devices and fasteners. In addition, technical industrial safety measures for individual and collective protection increase safety on the job:
- Anchor points: allows a restricted area or a specific working environment to be secured
- Cable and rail systems: Systems with a moveable anchor point which enable safe movement options along the cable/rail run
- Enclosures: Machine covers, e.g. protective casing for drills and lathes, ensure that no-one can reach into the machine.
- Scaffolding: mobile or fixed scaffolding is more stable and safer for climbing than ladders.
- Barriers: these pre-emptively prevent employees, as well as the industrial climber himself, from accessing specific sources of danger.
- Railings: especially on large-scale equipment, such as a long paper machine, railings prevent penetration to dangerous fall edges or potential sources of danger.
3. Organisational industrial safety measures
Next, organisational industrial safety measures must be complied with in order to ensure real fall protection on industrial premises and in industrial halls:
- Access restrictions: the accident risk is reduced by restricting the group of people who have access to a plant or to equipment, for instance by means of a chip card system.
- Shift arrangements: setting fixed rules as to the number of people who may be on the job also improves safety.
- Instruction: Employees working on a machine or in a plant and using fall protection require special instruction, e.g. the locations at which care is required, and what the dangers are.
4. Personal industrial safety measures
Personal industrial safety measures are aimed at those who are actually active at the source of danger. This protective equipment is personalised, and as a rule it must not be shared, e.g. safety footwear
- Safety shoes
- Anti-fall PPE harnesses
Who is liable in the event of a fall accident?
In Austria, if a fall accident occurs despite safety precautions, e.g. an industrial climber slips during his work, an accident report must be made to AUVA. This must take place within 5 days, or within 3 days for a fatal accident. In order to exclude negligent conduct, an assessor will inspect the accident site and the fall protection system. The basis of this assessment is the installation document and the test logs which must be created annually. If these are not available or not kept carefully, then there is already a risk of being held accountable for this breach. Furthermore, it must be checked whether the fall protection was planned and installed appropriately and effectively. If faults are proven in the inspection of the substructure, or in planning, installation, documentation, PPE, and rescue measures, then it has to be decided who bears responsibility. As a rule, it is a court who decides whether the managing director of the affected industrial operation, the safety expert, or the installation company is made liable.
Summary: Fall protection is anchored in law
It makes complete sense to treat fall protection as a holistic safety concept. On the one hand, industrial operations must comply with the legal foundations, with all their laws and standards. On the other hand, these thus protect from the accusation of negligence in the event of a fall accident. Real fall protection is based on the totality of the safety measures, and these must be systematically designed on the basis of the STOP principle. A trained safety expert and an experienced installation company with regularly tested experts are the best precondition for optimally protected industrial halls and premises.
Would you like to find out more about sustainable safety concepts in industrial operations? Then download our manual about fall protection in industry now, free of charge.
How do industrial operations create real fall protection?
In operations with real fall protection, the risks to persons, physical objects, and the company itself can be significantly reduced. Fall accidents may of course still occur despite this, but the likelihood is very much reduced, and classification as an accident without negligent conduct is ensured. The following six aspects should be factored in for a holistic safety concept.
Fall prevention in 6 steps:
1. Inspection of the substructure:
Before a fall protection system is installed, the first step must be to determine the actual base or substructure, so that the fall protection products tested to DIN EN 795 (Anchorage devices) can be selected correctly. For example, the customer believes that his aluminium trapezoidal sheet roof is made of steel, and passes this incorrect information on to the installation company, which then orders the incorrect fastening materials such as bolts or clamps on this basis. If these products are installed, then the fall protection provided is not real, but illusory.
In order to ensure that the selected anchorage devices are installed correctly and effectively, a specialist experienced in fall protection should plan the safety system. For this, he or she will also consult with experts from other specialist areas, for example with a structural engineer, to clarify the number and position of the drillings in steel girders. Installation companies or safety experts obtain the specialist knowledge required for planning the fall protection system in special planning training courses for which they receive certification. Tools like INNO|plan support the planners to achieve real fall protection in plants.
The illusion of safety is also created by installation errors, such as when product descriptions and installation instructions are not complied with. As a rule, every anchorage device is delivered with the appropriate, tested fasteners and with easily comprehensible product descriptions in up to 25 languages. In addition, detailed installation checklists are available which, for example, specify exactly which drill bits, clamps, etc. have to be used.
The background to this careful work is that, because of their controlled verification, the products and instructions included provide real fall protection. This guarantee promise is invalid if alternative, unregulated, or non-conforming products/and or aids, e.g. from hardware stores, are used. This is because the fasteners may appear similar, but there is no evidence that they can withstand a pendulum fall from a height of several metres.
In the next step the fall protection system must be documented meticulously using images, because this test log forms the basis of the mandatory annual inspection, and also of the investigation in the event of a fall accident. The installation and acceptance log is then signed and issued to the customer, in order to confirm that the equipment fulfils the applicable safety standard in every respect. By means of the intuitive INNO|doc installation tool, the documentation is completed rapidly and professionally, because the testers complete all checklists on their Smartphones and upload the related images directly from their phones.
5. Anti-fall PPE:
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is also an important factor for avoiding an illusion of safety in industrial operations. Firstly, every user of the fall protection system must be provided with their own correct PPE which is coordinated to the individual areas of application and to the actual equipment. It is also necessary to take into account individual requirements such as potential chafing of cables at fall edges. Secondly, industrial climbers must participate in anti-fall PPE training.
6. Rescue measures:
Finally, the rescue measures consisting of the rescue plan and rescue system are essential components of real fall protection. If the fallen worker in our example had been left suspended for longer than 20 to 30 minutes, there would have been the risk of suspension trauma, in which the blood supply is interrupted, potentially leading to death. Users will find background knowledge, for example at Tutorials at MARK Save a Life on YouTube.
So what is fall protection?
In Germany, fall protection in the technical regulations for workplaces (ASR) is defined as: “intrinsically effective equipment which impedes a fall even without the conscious participation of the worker, e.g. a peripheral guard [...] or cover”.
In industrial operations, the fall protection system secures and optimally protects all people working in them from a fall, and in the event of a fall. This means a holistic safety concept on the basis of appropriate and effective devices which prevent a fall in areas where there is risk (primary fall protection) or intercept falling persons and/or materials (secondary fall protection).
Summary: Industrial operations require real fall protection
The illusion of safety is dangerous because workers and colleagues on the job depend on the existing safety concept. If this is insufficiently planned and implemented, then not only may human life be at risk, but also the company’s existence. Because after every fall accident there is an investigation, with all its consequences, to exclude negligent conduct by the responsible persons. This well-known saying certainly applies here: Better safe than sorry.