Training and equipment required for working at heights

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    Training should be specific to the equipment in use and situations which may be encountered.
    By Scott R. Connor

    Working at heights training programs for companies, fire departments and individuals have seen many improvements to historical rescue gear, and the welcomed invention of many new pieces of equipment in the past 25 years.

    Industrial and construction regulations require the employer to have a rescue plan when workers are using fall arrest as their form of fall protection.

    Much of the rescue equipment now available has additional safety built in, allowing it to pass “the whistle test.” Should something happen to the rescuer manning the system while the victim is hanging on a lifeline, or when a whistle is hypothetically blown at any time during testing, the equipment should either lock-up, or offer automatic controlled descent. The alternative would have the victim free-falling to the ground if the rescuer becomes distracted or incapacitated.

    Most regulations pertaining to working at heights will reference the standard which the equipment has met. In Europe, this is CE/EN. In the U.S., it is OSHA/ANSI. For Australia and New Zealand it is AS/NZS, and in Canada CSA.

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    Working at heights equipment

    The four main purposes for the equipment for people who work at heights are: sport, rope access, emergency services and industrial.

    Working at heights rescue gear being used
    Most of the rescue gear used by fire departments is not CSA-approved. This may cause an enforcement issue if you are a business and not a fire department.

    Since there is no sport aspect (rock climbing/mountaineering) to industrial and construction work, it is not recommended that any sport equipment be used in these fields. It often does not have the strength to handle the rigours of industrial situations, and, in many cases, does not incorporate the whistle test safety.

    Working at heights gear being used
    The gear used in rope access is specific to a certain diameter of rope. Therefore, compatibility becomes an issue should the user attempt to use gear intended for something else, such as emergency services.

    Equipment used in rope access is not very expensive. However, it requires at least 40 hours of initial training, as well as continued training to maintain the skills to be efficient and safe. Not only can the failure rate be quite high, but even after attending training, workers still require supervision by a person with a higher level of rope access training. It is also very physically demanding, so worker injury due to strained and pulled muscles is not uncommon.

    The gear used in rope access is specific to a certain diameter of rope. Therefore, compatibility becomes an issue should the user attempt to use gear intended for something else, such as emergency services. While rope access follows a method for using their equipment which meets an equivalent level of safety for working at heights, most of the gear is not CSA-approved. This may become an issue with a labour inspector or during an accident investigation.

    Emergency services, such as fire departments, generally require a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) rating on the gear they use. The equipment, for the most part, is not very expensive but requires a fair amount of initial and regular continuing training to maintain skill and efficiency. Most of the rescue gear used by fire departments is not CSA-approved, so, again, this may become an issue with enforcement if you are a business and not a fire department.

    Industrial regulations in each region state the standard to which the equipment must be tested. In Canada, most provinces require that fall protection equipment meet CSA standards. This makes it easy for businesses, managers and supervisors to enforce since it will either be stamped with the CSA logo or have associated paperwork stating this.

    Working at heights training

    Most CSA-approved fall protection equipment and rescue gear is what we refer to as “clip-and-go/pre-rigged” equipment, and is very user friendly and intuitive. Even though the initial outlay for the cost of equipment is a bit more, it is safer, and the time commitment in training is much less than rope access or emergency services techniques, due to the ease of use of the equipment. It also requires less ongoing training to maintain skills and techniques. This is beneficial to businesses which may only train their workers in working at heights and rescue every one to three years.

    Training should be specific to the equipment in use and situations which may be encountered. Using CSA-approved systems ensures the equipment will not be an issue during an inspection or investigation. There is also a much greater chance it will be used correctly during an actual emergency.

     

    Scott Connor is the Chief Training Officer for TEAM-1 Academy Inc. This article is scheduled to appear is ES&E Magazine’s April 2016 Issue. 

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