Construction has long been considered one of the most hazardous industries in many parts of the world. Projects are commonly described as dynamic and complex because of their sites and staffing patterns which are typically temporary and transitory.

A fall can occur in the blink of an eye, caused by a momentary lapse in concentration, tiredness, lack of spatial awareness, misplaced footing, reaction to unexpectedly loud noise, slipping or loss of balance, which is exacerbated if the worker is carrying heavy tools or equipment. Typical scenarios may include a construction worker moving around a flat roof or a scaffolder putting platforms in place on the side of a building. However, it is incorrect to assume that the danger level increases with the height of the site. The number of falls that occur at relatively low heights, where suitable precautions may not have been thought necessary, is a testament to that. Even if someone working at height does not spend most of their day near an edge, it is likely, that they will spend some of their time near one, whether they initially expected to or not.

If they are using an SRL, they might assume they are protected if they fall over an edge. However, if the webbing or cable comes into forceful contact with an edge, under the strain of a worker who has fallen, its ability to remain intact is questionable if it has not already passed an edge testing process to demonstrate its resilience.

Miller Falcon Edge SRL, designed for edge applications

A fully tested SRL, will have proven resistance against edges of different materials, whether the edge is formed from metal, concrete or roofing felt. The pressure upon the webbing or cable is further heightened if it has been anchored horizontally rather than vertically. Safety is enhanced by positioning anchor points overhead, but this is not always possible on a flat roof, for example, or on a scaffolding structure being assembled floor by floor in an upward direction. In many cases, anchor points are at foot level, which increases the strain upon the lifeline.

Key edge related risks to look out for

The planning of protective measures must begin with a risk assessment. At the outset, the most effective remedy is to remove the risk entirely by avoiding work near edges wherever possible. As we have seen, however, there is a growing range of circumstances in which working near edges is unavoidable. In such cases, it is recommended that contractors collaborate with project designers at an early stage to integrate protective infrastructure such as anchorage points into the work site. After that, optimal safety is reliant upon the selection of high-quality equipment and the correct behaviour of workers. There are some important risks and factors to bear in mind.

    In the conventional hierarchy of fall protection solutions, Collective Points Equipment (CPE), such as guard rails and safety nets, has traditionally taken precedence since it protects all workers equally and at all times, without relying on the individual to take action. However, safety levels are strongly enhanced by using PFPE, which provides continuous attachment while allowing users to operate ‘hands-free’. The importance of PFPE is intensified by the tendency of workers near edges to operate alone or in small groups, without necessarily being supervised constantly.
Wearing appropriate PFPE whilst installing Collective Protective Equipment (CFP)

The need for a more integrated approach to fall protection that embraces both CPE and PFPE is exemplified by the process of installing CPE, which can place individuals at risk if they are not equipped with PFPE. This would usually take the form of a (SAL) or SRL, which anchor those working at or near edges to a fixed point.

The efficacy of PFPE is constrained in practice by a number of important factors. Firstly, PFPE is not always used as consistently as it should be, particularly when workers are moving between areas of a site and only spending part of their day in close proximity to a potentially dangerous edge.

Awareness and training are clearly integral to improvement, but the equipment itself deserves close scrutiny. Research conducted by Honeywell suggests that even when SRLs are in use, they may harbour hidden dangers. This is arguably the most worrying issue of all, particularly when workers are operating in close proximity to edges that could compromise the integrity of a lanyard under the tension of a fall. The potential for SRLs to sever when pulled tightly over an edge is a significant cause for concern. Given that not all SRLs have been subjected to edge testing to demonstrate their resilience, it is incumbent on employers to seek evidence of this.

Arresting a fall is not the only consideration when protecting workers near the edges. Controlling the way in which the work falls is just as important. For example, an incorrectly positioned anchor point which is not directly overhead can expose workers to the so-called pendulum effect, where the worker swings back and forth. This can cause serious injuries if a worker strikes nearby surfaces such as a wall or protruding beam. In these cases, the wider the angle between the worker and the anchor point, the longer it will take for the descending worker to reach a position directly beneath the anchor, at which point the SRL can arrest the fall.

Worker uses anchor point installed above the work area

Key criteria for SRLs
Scrutiny of product quality poses a sophisticated set of questions, nevertheless these are integral to the safety of the overall solution. The importance of buying from well-known, reputable manufacturers cannot be overemphasised. Buyers should look for documentary evidence of test performance, third-party certification and compliance with ISO quality standards.

It is vital that employers of workers at height gain a greater understanding of the risks relating to edges, the hidden dangers that may compromise the integrity of SRLs and the latest regulatory changes that demand more rigorous testing and maintenance of personal fall arrest equipment.