Fall Protection: Less is More?

The paradox “less is more” is often associated with items in our personal lives, like a best man’s toast at a wedding or details about your in-laws’ vacation.  But, can this phrase also hold true when it comes to fall protection equipment?

To illustrate, let me share an example from a client.  You are working on an assembly line where a robot swings a part into position.  If a motor on that robot breaks, you must get up ten feet into the air to fix it.  For this task, you have two options – first, a platform with guardrail and ladder access. Or, second, a portable ladder while using a harness and a lanyard. 

As you work, you hear the whine of the motor and the crack of the gears failing.  The assembly line shuts down, at a cost of $30,000 a minute.  For your first option with the platform, you scurry up the ladder, replace the motor, carefully go down the ladder and restart the assembly line. With your second option involving the harness and lanyard, you go to the storage cabinet and remove your harness and lanyard.  Because safety is the first priority at your company, you perform a thorough pre-use inspect of the equipment.  Then, you slide over to the storage rack and get your ladder.  Next, you find a co-worker to watch over you in case you fall.  You finally go up the ladder, tie off to the appropriate anchorage, replace the motor, go down the ladder and restart the assembly line. 

It is clear that the first example would take less time.  Although PPE is a common solution for fall protection, in this case, it increased the downtime and decreased the productivity of workers – costly valuable time and money.  The only benefit of using a harness and lanyard was that the work could be done safely.  So, if safety can be achieved and likely improved in other ways, such as engineering controls, you will see benefit in a variety of ways.

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