Fall protection was the most frequently cited OSHA standard and a leading cause of work fatalities last year. If you have employees who work at heights or use personal fall arrest systems, OSHA has very specific requirements you must follow. First, you must have a competent person for fall-from-height activities. Most employers are familiar with the first requirement, but many are not aware of the second. Employers must plan for the prompt rescue of any employee who falls or assure the fallen employee is able perform self-rescue.

Fall Protection Competent Person

What is a competent person?

By OSHA’s definition, a competent person is someone who can identify existing and predictable hazards that are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authority to promptly eliminate them through corrective measures.

What is required of a competent person?

An employer must designate someone as a competent person and empower them with the authority to correct, eliminate, minimize, and/or remove employees from any hazards. A competent person is responsible for:

1. Training employees
2. Implementing a fall protection plan
3. Inspecting equipment
4. Identifying non-certified anchor points
5. Determining appropriate corrective measures.

How can you become a competent person?

A competent person must have experience and/or training on the applicable equipment used and the work being performed. Typically, the employer-designated competent person works for the company, but they can be a contractor. It is a good practice to document your designated competent person’s training.

Fall Protection Rescue

Why do I need a rescue plan?

Aside from OSHA regulatory compliance, employers without a rescue plan place their employees at serious risk. Self-rescue is difficult at best, and in most circumstances is impossible. If an employee falls in a harness and remains motionless, within a few minutes to approximately 20 minutes they will suffer shortness of breath, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, hypotension, unconsciousness, and even death. These effects are primarily a result of suspension trauma from disrupted blood flow from the harness leg straps.

Where do rescue plans fail?

Employees don’t say, “Today is the day I am going to fall.” Most people don’t plan on falling. As a result, they may fail to develop an effective on-site rescue plan, or poorly trained and equipped personnel may be unable to execute a quick response. Please see our Fall Rescue Toolbox Talk for more information on fall rescue.

What should you consider as part of your effective rescue plan?

When developing and preparing a rescue plan, consider these factors:

  • Have we considered alternatives to prevent employees from working at heights?
  • Have all available measures been taken to prevent any falls (e.g., railings, barriers)?
  • Have we thought about what we would do if an employee fell? Are all employees adequately trained to prevent falling? Do employees have the proper equipment, and are they using it? Do the employees have suspension trauma relief devices on their harness? Do employees know to bicycle in place to increase blood flow?
  • What are our options to get a person down if they fell (e.g., scissor lift, ladder, other trained personnel)?
  • If employees are expected to assist in a rescue, is adequate equipment readily available and have proper anchorage points been determined? Are rescue personnel properly trained and qualified to perform an assisted descent or over-the-edge rescue? Have the employees inspected the rescue equipment, practiced with it, and are they physically capable and proficient in performing a rescue?
  • Do we have a written rescue plan that identifies all feasible options in the event of a fall?
  • Can local responders access your site and reach your work area in a reasonable time?

No matter what type of fall hazards or potential rescue scenarios you face, RETTEW’s Safety Consulting group can assist you with consultation, training, evaluation, personal protective equipment, program and rescue plan development, and even serve as your rescue service. Please contact Kelly Kramer, CECD, HEM, at 800.738.8395 for more information.

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