Knowing How to Fall: How & When to Use Fall Protection
You may have heard a rise the in amount of Fall Protection talk at trade shows and in your theatre. Sometimes what is required and when it is required can be a little confusing. Here’s a quick reference sheet with some tips and links that will hopefully help you when determining your Fall Protection needs. Remember that help is only a phone call away and there are specialists who can help you design, install, and equip a Fall Protection system.
ANSI Standards. These standards cover the design and construction of Fall Protection systems and equipment. Miller Safety has put together a pretty useful PDF that breaks it all down. Here’s a link. Generally speaking, the standards tell you HOW to use Fall Protection, but not necessarily WHEN. For that we turn to OSHA.
OSHA Standards. For general industry, the requirements can be found here. The “Cliffs Notes” version is: anytime there is a drop of six feet or greater and there is not an approved railing (42” or taller) Fall Protection is required. This includes loading galleries, straight ladders, hatches for ladders, and tormentor lighting positions. An interesting spot in the theatre is the balcony rail. The International Building Code has an exception for sightlines in a place of public assembly for a railing height to be as low as 22”, but OSHA does not have the same exception. Technically speaking, a balcony rail should have Fall Protection for workers who need to lean over and access the lighting.
Finally the gaps in the grid…OSHA is a little less clear on the grid wells. The requirement is “Every floor hole into which persons can accidentally walk shall be guarded [1910.23(a)(8)]”. This has often been interpreted as an opening through which a person can fall completely. We would recommend running the grid design by a local code official to get their input on how wide the openings of the grid wells can be. For more specialized industries or circumstances including requirements in lifts and on ladders, start here.
Fall Arrest vs. Fall Restraint. Simply put, Fall Arrest is a system that will stop after you fall. A 6′ lanyard is the most common example of this. Fall Restraint is a device that will stop you before the fall. For example, a self-retracting lifeline is typically used as a Fall Restraint. These systems are both designed to save you from that quick stop at the floor, but the design requirements can be very different. Even the loading requirements vary depending on what form of Fall Protection is being used. One of the more challenging aspects can be finding or designing the appropriate anchorage points within the building structure itself.
Rescue Plan? Last, but very far from least, is the all-too-often overlooked requirement to design a rescue plan and provide staff training. Your staff should be trained on the use of the Fall Protection equipment and the execution of the rescue plan from every location with potential for a fall. This may involve extra equipment to lower in a stranded worker, having access equipment such as lifts on standby and a path available to the working locations, or even coordination with your local fire department in emergency response.
Seek an Expert. Since the system must be engineered as a complete system including rescue, and due to the considerations to be made even into the actual engineering of the building structure, we recommend seeking out an expert. Working with a Fall Protection company or other qualified person is the best way to determine the most appropriate system for your circumstance and what the design requirements are for that system.