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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

There’s a common saying that goes something like this: “the road to trouble is paved with good intentions.” And nothing could be truer when it comes to our example for this quarter’s What’s Wrong With This Picture.

Do You See What We See?

Our image actually came from someone who was kind enough to give our harnesses a shout-out on social media. They were in the middle of one of their regular training sessions, and wanted to share their belief in the importance of safety with their community. Talk about good intentions!

We love it when our customers want to talk to us about fall protection, and are always up for the conversation. And, when we take a look at the harnesses in our picture, everything looks great!

After that, however, we start to have some concerns. But that’s OK! Education is central to our mission here at Guardian, and sometimes the best way to learn how to do something the right way is to see it done the wrong way first.

So, go ahead and ask yourself, what’s wrong with this picture?


 rope guardrail.jpg



A Guardrail By Any Other Name

Hopefully you’ll see a running theme as you read both this and the other articles in this quarter’s newsletter. With that in mind, a good place for us to start is to look at the guardrails, which we see are no more than vertical lifelines with snap hook ends tied-off around the scaffolding posts.

While OSHA doesn’t specifically prohibit the use of synthetic rope guardrails, it doesn’t address them either, with the closest equivalent being the use of wire cable guardrails. The difficult with using rope, especially in the manner shown (setting aside the fact that vertical lifelines are connecting devices intended for use as a component of a personal fall protection system), is that it will deflect beyond what is permitted by OSHA.

Imagine applying a 200 lb. downward/outward force to our top “rail” here. What do you think will happen? The rope will give way (and if it deflects lower than 39” our guardrail is no longer OSHA compliant), which is exactly what it is designed to do. When used in a Fall Arrest application, the elastic properties of synthetic vertical lifeline rope are a key part of the system’s ability to direct forces away from the worker. When used as a guardrail, however, this deflection could result in a worker tumbling over the edge if they placed too much of their weight against the rail. We run into the same difficulty with the mid-rail, and a similar difficulty with bottommost rope, which should instead take the form of a toeboard.


Turn This Thing Around

So, what’s the solution? Quite simply, don’t use ropes as guardrails. Either use a freestanding system, such as Guardian’s G-rail, or work with the scaffolding manufacturer to find a compatible module or snap-on rail designed for use in Fall Prevention applications.

Since, we’re now talking Fall Prevention more generally, that brings us nicely to the subject of the fall protection hierarchy, in which we know Fall Prevention is more preferred than Fall Arrest. The nice part about the fall protection hierarchy is that it is binary: you’re either a one or a zero; you’re either working in an application or you aren’t.

If you’re working in a Fall Prevention application, all possible fall hazards that may confront you over the course of the work day must be blocked by some kind of guardrail or equivalent system. If even one hazard exists that is not properly obstructed, your one becomes a zero—you are no longer working in Fall Prevention and the equipment you use must reflect that.

Looking back at our image, we see that our workers are aware of this distinction. It looks like one side of their scaffolding is not blocked with rails (the suitability of those rails not withstanding), so they decided to use SRLs to tie themselves off. Another great intention!

What’s the problem?

The first concern that comes to mind is that our workers are tied-off to their guardrail system, which most definitely doesn’t fall in sync with our binary understanding of the fall protection hierarchy. Guardrails are not anchor points. It’s fine if a guardrail coexists at the same time someone is working in Fall Arrest, but it should never be used as a component of the Fall Arrest system. It’s true that vertical lifelines can be used as a component of a Fall Arrest system, but only when used as specified by the product instructions, and given we’re dealing with a vertical lifeline being used horizontally we’re not off to a great start.

It’s like driving the wrong way down a one-way street. The car still runs and you might still get to where you’re going, but if something goes wrong, your road is quickly leading you into trouble.

The next concern, which very well may supersede anything else, is the strength of the scaffolding that will ultimately be responsible for absorbing the load generated by a fall, and in this case we have multiple workers to be concerned about, not just one. We know that an anchor for a single worker in Fall Arrest must possess a minimum breaking strength of at least 5,000 lbs. This applies to the structure as well, since it’s not going to do anyone any good to have a 5,000 lb. rated anchor point connected to a thin piece of balsa wood. And as the number of workers increases, so too do structural strength requirements.

Will the scaffolding be able to stand up to the forces of potentially five falling workers? If so, do the workers have sufficient fall clearance underneath to keep them from impacting the next highest object or work surface?

Get Thee To A Professional

As a fall protection equipment manufacturer, we can’t for sure say yes or no to either of those questions. Determining structural strength is the purview of a structural engineer or Qualified Person, and while Guardian’s Engineered Services Group (ESG) can assist with structural assessment, it can’t be done through a picture. We can provide more assistance when it comes to fall clearance calculations, but the final determination is again in someone else’s hands (in this case, the jobsite Competent Person).

With all this being said, it’s important to acknowledge how difficult it can be to do things right sometimes. Where, we ask, would an acceptable place be to install an overhead anchor point in our picture? The…sky? Guardian’s SkyHook Anchor is great and all, but believe it or not we did take a few creative liberties with the name.

Our best solution here really comes back to the proper use of guardrails. Scaffolding manufacturers are in the business of Fall Prevention, so we’re guessing that some kind of rail exists for this scaffold. If not, then a freestanding system is the way to go…just remember not to connect a Fall Arrest system to the rails. No matter how good your intentions, they won’t mean a thing if they bring a guardrail system down on your head.