Not to be glib, but remember, what goes up must come down. We just want you all to come down safely.”

Well, what a way to start a Toolbox Talk re-appraisal of Safety Harnesses on last week’s Apprentice Day. But at least it got everybody’s attention.

As electrical contractors often working in large distribution hubs, working at height is an almost daily occurrence. Beyond the reach of the steps come the MEWPs. The most significant MEWP dangers arise from operation and use of the machine, rather than from their movement as a site vehicle. The law says that these hazards must be properly controlled.

We’ll just address one of these points – there are dangers related to moving MEWPs on site just as there are dangers simply walking around a site. So, take nothing for granted, check corporate regs and site regs as part of PPE and Toolbox Talks at the start of each day and adhere to the rules.

Working at height has its own problems.

Operators have died when trapped in the MEWP basket or when the machine has overturned. Great care must be taken to select the most appropriate MEWP, and ensure that deployment of the machine is properly planned and managed.

MEWP Hazards

Most fatal and serious injuries involving MEWPs arise from:

  • Entrapment: operator trapped between part of the basket and a fixed structure, eg when manoeuvring in confined overhead areas of steelwork. Operators may become trapped against the platform controls, unable to stop the machine running.
  • Overturning: the machine may overturn throwing the operator from the basket.
  • Falling: an operator may fall from the basket during work activities; and
  • Collision: the vehicle may collide with pedestrians, overhead cables or nearby vehicles.

These hazards should be identified within a risk assessment and suitable control measures put in place to avoid them.

Controlling the Risk

It is important to select the right MEWP for the job and site. There are a number of precautions that can reduce the risk from MEWP hazards. These are:

  • Confined overhead working should be identified, added to the risk assessment and fully briefed to the operators.
  • Keeping the platform tidy will reduce the risk of the operator tripping or losing balance while in the basket.
  • Outriggers must be extended and chocked before raising the platform. Spreader plates may be necessary – check the equipment manual.
  • Guardrails and effective toe boards should be fitted.
  • Arresting falls – this is where the harness and line come in – back to our patient Apprentices in a minute.
  • Falling objects are a hazard that a tidy deck will reduce and appropriately positioned and PPE’d ground staff will avoid.
  • Nearby hazards: do not operate a MEWP close to overhead cables or other dangerous machinery, or allow any part of the arm to protrude into a traffic route.

Arresting Falls

A safety harness is a pretty simple piece of equipment. In its simplest form, a safety harness is a system of restraints designed to prevent the user from falling from a height. Safety harnesses also greatly reduce the risk of injury if they were to fall from height.

Once the user is wearing the harness they attach it to a solid, stationary object. Should they fall for whatever reason, the harness and the fall protection system will prevent ground impact.

But, you can’t just take a harness off the shelf and think that’s it, job done. Safety harnesses, when combined with sufficient working at height practice, reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring.

Using a Safety Harness

The very first thing you need to know is how to inspect the harness to make sure that it’s suitable for industrial use – fit for purpose.

And this is the first thing Michelle did when a whole new set of harnesses arrived at JGF. She rejected three that were damaged, these being replaced by a rather embarrassed PPE supplier. Her eagle eyes and no-nonsense approach to safety are essential assets for an H&S Officer.

As with all Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), you should inspect your safety harness for suitability every 6 months and complete the detailed periodic inspection regularly. That’s on top of checking the safety harness before each use.

A quick checklist that might help:

The webbing must be free of tears, cuts, fraying or excessive abrasion; loose seams or fading may also mean that the fiber structure is compromised. Check the straps for any damage or distortion, especially UV, chemical damage or if the harness appears brittle.

We recently threw a perfectly good looking harness away because a previous employer had written his name on it. That’s a no no.

Don’t be precious, be safe.

Using Your Safety Harness

If you fail to assemble your harness correctly, then you’ll end up doing more harm than good” said Michelle on handing the gear out. “Just hang on (no pun intended) and I will fit and check each of you to make sure you know exactly what to do. Then, you’ll check each other, working ‘buddy buddy’ as you would on site.”

Your legs come first – pull the thigh straps up and around your legs and tighten them to suit. Next, make sure that your arms are through the arm straps, and connect the chest strap so that the fabric is tight on the shoulders. The chest strap and shoulder straps should be central and comfortable.”

Try to move your arms and shoulders – if there are any restrictions, adjust the buckles as necessary.”

Once you’ve assembled your safety harness correctly, you can attach it to whatever device has been identified as safe and reliable in your working at height instructions.

WARNING

If someone does have a fall, bring them safely to the ground BUT, DO NOT REMOVE THE HARNESS.

Because of the compression it will have put on the body, raspatory system and arterial flow, releasing the harness may cause a sudden rush of toxins into the body that could kill the faller.

Sit them in the ‘W’ position until paramedics attend, assess and release the harness if safe to do so.

Our thanks to Michelle Riley and the knowledge gained and so well shared from Kentec’s Harness Essentials and Harness Inspection courses.