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Unstoppable Ego v. Irresistible Force


By Michael Halliwell

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As many of you know, my involvement with the coatings industry is not on the application side. As someone in the environmental field, my most common involvement is in the assessment of applied paints for lead content.

But recently, I was asked to assess a free-standing, four-story decorative gate structure that needs to be relocated to make way for some major transportation upgrades.

The location, height and nature of the structure meant it was time to bring in an Elevated Work Platform (EWP) to get the job done right.

High Hopes

For many of you, working at heights is something you do on a daily or near-daily basis.

The Workplace Safety Store

You may get used to working at heights. But don't let experience lead to complacency ... and to safety shortcuts.

Your daily prep for work includes putting on a harness and getting a lanyard or retract ready to ensure that you are tied off and that you don’t fall from heights greater than the OSHA-mandated six feet.

In my company, even though I maintain my fall arrest and EWP training, working at heights is less common and using an EWP is rare.

And it was a first for our otherwise-experienced corporate safety officer, who joined me on the project.

Needless to say, in light of all the recent articles about fatal falls that have appeared in PaintSquare News and the upcoming U.S. Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, it was both refreshing and an eye opener to go through “from the ground up” and revisit our safe work plans for fall protection and EWPs.

Stopping Falls: What's Your Excuse?

If you weren’t already aware of it, construction has the highest number of falls of all industries, regardless of whether you are in the U.S. or Canada.

Similarly, falls are consistently one of the most common fatal accidents in our workplaces. In my jurisdiction, falls account for about one in five workplace injury claims.

And yet, more and more, we’re hearing of incidents where fall arrest wasn’t used, wasn’t available, or was worn but simply wasn’t tied off.

Michael Halliwell

The decorative gate might not seem high to veterans of great heights, but it's well above OSHA's six-foot threshold for mandatory fall protection.

I think we’ve all heard the excuses: “It’s inconvenient! “It’s a hassle!” “It’ll only take a couple minutes to do the job!” and “Oh, I’ve done this thousands of times. It's fine!”

The thing is, the difference between going home that day and going to the morgue can be the matter of an inch or two—or a fraction of a second.

Beyond Splat

Ok, so we know we should be wearing our harnesses and be tied off all the time. Great! So, we do that and we’re safe, right? Not quite.

There’s another component here that we can’t forget about. Yes, if you fall, the lanyard and harness keep you from going splat.

But then, you’re stuck just hanging around. Do you remember suspension trauma? Do you know what “hanging around” can do to your body?

There are some pretty major blood vessels and veins needed to provide blood to the big muscles in the legs. Restrict the circulation there, and it can result in permanent medical complications or even death.

The Workplace Safety Store

It takes but a second to go from top to dead. And if you land in between, a rescue plan is critical.

Having a rescue plan is critical, and anyone who falls and is suspended needs to be evaluated by a medical professional.

Killer Complacency

I know that most of you are already aware of the dangers of falls and treat them with the respect they deserve.

But what about the person next to you (or waiting for you at the job site)?

Is he or she tied off at all required times? Is the new guy getting the training and mentoring needed to do it right, and do they understand the gravity (yeah, I know…) of their working situation?

Or are you, and them, becoming complacent and blind to the hazards of working at heights?

Fresh Look

It’s great if we can be the example: watch out for our brothers and sisters on the job and help the new guy.

But every once in a while, do what I did: Take a step back, look at the job objectively—and from the ground up.

FallProtection FallProtectionNetting

Even if you treat falls with respect, what about the person next to you? The new guy? And the cocky old one?

Don’t let complacency sneak in to ruin a good day or even a life. It is better to take a moment and ask yourself questions like:

  • Is there something being overlooked?
  • Does the existing policy need to be updated, or even replaced?
  • Is the equipment up to date for inspections and certifications?
  • Is everyone’s training current?

My recent review of my company’s fall-protection plan and EWP practices helped me to be safer during my recent work at heights.

In the end, wouldn’t you rather take a couple minutes and possibly swallow a bite of humble pie in finding something that was missed, rather than having a plate overflowing with remorse that you could have done something simple to prevent a fatal fall?

It’s a jungle out there, folks. Let’s stay safe while we swing in the trees.


Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell, M.Eng., CESA, EP, P.Eng., is an Associate and Environmental Engineer for Thurber Engineering Ltd. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. During his 17-plus years with the company, he has been involved with environmental site assessment, remediation, construction inspection and supervision, and project management. He also performs hazardous building material assessments for asbestos and lead paint.



Tagged categories: Access; Fall protection; Health and safety; Thurber Engineering Ltd.

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