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Keeping Pace with Fall Protection

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

We all know that initial safety training is a crucial element of our programs that aim to keep our employees protected from harm at work. For any and all hazards (or potential hazards} to which we expose our workers, we must ensure they understand the nature of the hazards and how to protect themselves.

Initial safety training and proper safety equipment, combined with good old-fashioned experience, goes a long way in ensuring a safe work environment. But, at times, we must provide re-training for our employees – and there are many reasons for this.
For example, if our employees demonstrate a lack of knowledge or acceptable performance in regards to any particular hazard, we must provide re-training. If the process or equipment changes, we must provide re-training. If new safety equipment (includes systems as well) is brought into the program, we must re-train our employees on its proper use. And, finally, if there are changes to safety legislation or best-known practices, we need to re-train.

It seems that every week a new piece of fall protection equipment is brought to market – and for the most part, these emerging technologies make work-at-height safer than ever before. Additionally, these newer fall protection items tend to be lighter, more comfortable, easier to operate, and can even perform multiple safety functions. This is all great news, but not every item/system is right for the varied situations encountered at our workplaces. But when we do introduce a new piece of fall protection equipment to our workforce, it nearly universally calls for some degree of re-training. The manufacturer’s instructions for use may be a great starting point to satisfy this training, but it is always a good idea to provide some degree of formal training on the equipment, and then document that training.

The extent of this re-training is dependent on the complexity of the new equipment and the authorized person’s general knowledge base. Sometimes the user manual does not cover all the points that the re-training should convey. For example, harness-mounted self-retracting lifelines are becoming more and more prevalent in the work-at-height environment. In addition to the standard training for pre-use and periodic inspections, proper mounting, operating capabilities and limitations, at least one other point of training seems to be required. The worker cannot walk too quickly away from their anchorage lest they engage the arresting mechanism which abruptly stops the worker in their tracks. This may at times create a new hazard by jerking the worker off balance or causing them to drop objects they may have been carrying. I have even heard some tales of individuals suffering minor injuries due to the sudden stop. So, even though you may not find this point of training in the user’s manual, it comes with experience and should be included in the re-training for this type of new equipment.

Another reason to provide re-training for fall protection has to do with an observed deficiency in an authorized person’s knowledge or performance regarding fall protection. Now this can become a little tricky to find the root cause of the deficiency. Is it truly a lack of knowledge on the authorized person’s part, or is it a disregard for required procedures? Sometimes it's a mix of both. No matter the primary cause of the deficiency, if that authorized person is to remain on that job, it is incumbent on the employer to provide proper re-training. And I will say it again, document that re-training!

We have recently had a significant legislative change to the general industry standard for fall protection. On Nov. 18, 2016, OSHA 1910 Subpart D “Walking-Working Surfaces” was published and became effective on Jan 18, 2017. The major changes to this final rule have to do with physical changes to existing and future structures regarding the phase-in of ladder safety systems,

• Eliminating the outdated general industry requirements for scaffolds and adopting the construction industry’s scaffold standards,• Guidance on the use of rope descent systems and qualified climbers, as well as some other changes. But the most significant changes that will drive training and re-training requirements is the added flexibility of using personal fall protection systems for authorized persons. These personal fall protection systems include fall restraint, work positioning, and personal fall arrest systems (PFAS). OSHA has eliminated the mandate to use guardrail systems as the primary fall protection method and now allows the general industry employer to determine the fall protection method that they feel is best suited for the nature of the work at height. And this now includes personal fall protection which was not addressed prior.

For general industry employers, who prior to the new Subpart D did not allow their employees to use personal fall protection systems other than in accordance with 1910.66, the option to do so now will be deemed compliant. And, of course, this will require initial training and re-training for the use of personal fall protection equipment and systems. Additionally, employers that introduce the authorized use of work positioning and personal fall arrest systems to their workplace will also have to provide training on rescue of these workers if they are relying on an in-house rescue capability.

In the years I have been involved with safety and rescue training, one subtlety that I observe is this:

Oftentimes an employer or their employees do not realize they have a training deficiency until after they've gone through the training.
This is certainly true when it comes to rescue training. At the conclusion of nearly every rescue class I teach, at least one of the students says they never realized what all was involved in rescue and what the limitations of certain rescue systems were. And this is consistent with my interviews and reviews of rescue programs when I am asked to perform needs assessments at various facilities. Unless you have a background in technical rescue, it is very difficult to visualize the systems, skills, and equipment required to safely access and rescue a fallen/suspended victim.

Both OSHA and ANSI require employers to provide "prompt rescue" of employees they authorize to work at height while using personal fall arrest systems. OSHA has published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin recognizing suspension trauma as a workplace hazard affecting workers that use personal fall arrest systems. Many employers address rescue of fallen/suspended workers in their fall protection programs, but stop at merely developing written policies that may fall well short of the requirements needed at the time of an incident. This falls back to my earlier point that an employer that has a limited background and understanding of the complexities of performing rope rescue, especially if it requires technical skills beyond the simplest rescue, may not understand what the true requirements are for their facility. Sort of like that general saying last year that “We don’t know what we don’t know.” So, training for rescue is a subcategory of fall protection training that does not have as much easily accessed guidance and resources to rely on as a guide.

Quality training will include several of the points that I have detailed so far. The training will be pretty specific to the job with very little time spent on irrelevant material. The training will be of the type that best transfers the information in either a vocational or academic manner. The training will close the gaps that have been identified and arm the employer and the students with a better understanding of what is truly required to perform the job, which is especially true for rescue. But finally, the training should be delivered in such a manner that it captures the students’ interest. The best outcome of training, the classes where the student finishes with the highest level of retention, understanding and performance, are the classes that compel the students to engage in the learning.

I think it is a safe assumption to say that we have all sat through classes wondering when and hoping for the class to end. Looking at our watch is one thing, but when we are tapping it to see if it is even still working is a really bad sign. I am not suggesting that educators have to provide entertainment, but there is a demonstrated positive difference in classes delivered by an engaging trainer as compared to a very dull, monotonous trainer.

In addition to seeking an engaging trainer, it is important for the trainee to take some ownership in the learning process as well. This is where the adult learner has an advantage over younger learners. We as adults generally understand that the training will result in a better understanding of the job requirements and in many cases is a factor in career progression.

I encourage you to seek out the training that your employees need. Or, as an employee yourself, seek out quality, applicable training. Review the course syllabi and determine if it will close those knowledge and skills gaps that you have identified. Always back up those fancy sales brochures by reaching out to others to get their opinion on their experiences with the training in the past. Also, remember to consider re-training as needed and always document. These things are important for the overall quality and credibility of your safety training programs.

Article by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator for Roco Rescue, Inc. 

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Trench Collapses…one of the most dangerous hazards in construction

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A month after a 33-year-old worker died while working in an unprotected trench, OSHA inspectors found another employee of the same Missouri plumbing contractor working in a similarly unprotected trench at another job site. OSHA determined that, in both cases, the company failed to provide basic safeguards to prevent trench collapse and did not train its employees to recognize and avoid cave-in and other hazards. OSHA issued 14 safety violations found during both inspections, and proposed penalties totaling $714,142.

Trench collapses are among the most dangerous hazards in the construction industry.

Twenty-three deaths from trench and excavation operations were reported in 2016. In the first five months of 2017, at least 15 fatalities have been reported nationwide.

Gain knowledge, develop skills, and learn to recognize trench hazards by registering for Roco's Trench Rescue course. Our desire is for everyone to return home safely each day, and for this fatality number to not continue to increase.

Source: OSHA QuickTakes July 2017

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Local Departments Support Recovery Efforts

Friday, July 07, 2017

On 6/30/17, at approximately 4:23 AM, the East Side Fire Department (ESFD) was contacted by the Denham Springs Fire Department (DSFD) to provide technical rescue assistance on the Amite River Bridge just outside the City of Baton Rouge. DSFD requested high angle rescue personnel to aid the fire personnel already on the scene in rescuing a person who had jumped from the Hwy. 190 bridge span. While in route to the incident, East Side personnel were advised that the person who jumped had fallen approximately 40 ft. and had succumb to his injuries. High angle rescue support was still needed to transport the deceased up to the roadway surface.

Upon arrival, East Side Captain Chris Toucey directed personnel in constructing a mechanical advantage system to be utilized during recovery efforts. Captain Toucey also directed personnel in setting up a high-point anchor using the platform on their tower ladder. A stokes basket was lowered to DSFD personnel who packaged the deceased for transport. Once secured, the stokes basket was hauled up to the road surface using a Z-rig mechanical advantage system. The victim was then transferred to awaiting medical personnel.

Roco would like to commend both the Denham Springs Fire Department and the East Side Fire Department for a safe and efficient recovery.

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Rescue Toolbox: Petzl Rescucender

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Rescucender is one more quality piece of rescue hardware for your toolbox. Roco is proud to have been one of the first rescue training companies approached by Petzl to be shown the new device and asked to evaluate it. We were excited to see and use it from Day 1, and we then added it to our training kits as soon as they became available.

There’s no doubt, as computer assisted design (CAD) and precision computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines are used more and more in designing and manufacturing new rescue hardware, we are seeing some absolute gems coming to market. And I say gems, referring to function as well as appearance. There are still times when stamping and casting hardware is appropriate, but if there is a good reason to machine a piece from solid aluminum stock, it generally results in a lighter, smoother, more precise piece of kit.

And that is the case with the new Petzl Rescucender. It is primarily machined out of solid forged aluminum with some bits that are manufactured in a more traditional manner. But the end result is one of those gems. I have been waiting for an NFPA-rated, one-piece mechanical cam for quite some time; and now it is here. My first experience with a one-piece cam was with another Petzl product known as the Shunt. The ease of loading it onto, and stripping it off, the rope made it so much faster and greatly reduced the chance of dropping it. This is especially important when 300 feet or more on a tower!

The limitations of the Petzl shunt made it inappropriate for most technical rescue operations except for certain specialized situations such as during rope access or tower rescue when we are generally dealing with lighter rescue loads. The maximum rope diameter that the Shunt can handle is 11 mm. The new Rescucender is NFPA 1983 T Rated and accepts rope diameters from 9-13 mm.

But as important as the ease of mounting/dismounting is, what I really like about the shunt, and now the new Rescucender is the fact that the shell and the shoe are no longer connected together with a light cable or a thin piece of fabric. I have a few pet peeves, and one of them is seeing rescuers strutting about with a two-piece cam hanging from their gear loop unassembled. The shoe is clipped but the shell is just flapping in the breeze hanging from that thin tether waiting to get jammed into a piece of the structure and break free from the shoe. And, if you don’t believe that happens, you haven’t been doing this long enough, or it may be that your team is really good about assembling their two-piece cams when storing or hanging them from their gear loops. So that whole problem of the shoe ending up in Kansas City while the shell is somewhere in Oshkosh is now eliminated with the introduction of the Rescucender.

The attachment hole in the cam arm is extra-large which allows for rotation of your connector. This doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but once you start using equipment that allows rotation of the connector from end to end, you will appreciate it. 

As with any piece of rescue equipment, it is important to be properly trained in its use. The action for opening and closing the Rescucender becomes very intuitive in a short amount of time. The engagement and movement of the shoe along its guides oozes precision and the solid feel in your hand lends a high degree of confidence. The device is equipped with a spring that has a light action and is primarily intended to prevent fouling. Our experience is the cam runs rather freely down the rope in vertical applications when attached to a pulley. This provides the convenience of creating longer “throws” with a Z-rig or piggy-back hauling system. The balance between the spring action and the need for the cam to remain open in progress capture applications is spot on. It also has just enough passive camming action to remain in place without back-sliding during rope ascents. It runs free when you need it to, and then grabs the rope when needed.

We all know that the pin needs to be completely seated in most two-piece mechanical cams, the new Rescucender does not have a removable pin but instead has dual safety catches, one on each side of the body. Once the device is installed on the rope, it is important to check that there is no “red” of the visual indicators showing. You will feel and hear a distinct click when the safety catches engage. Additionally, the problem of installing the shoe the wrong way in the shell is now eliminated as the Rescucender does not allow 180 degree rotation of the shoe in relation to the shell.

I continue to be excited about the evolution of rescue equipment. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we moved from goldline ropes to kernmantle, but years would go by without seeing any major breakthroughs in modern equipment. Well, those days are over. It seems that the digital era, as well as the push from various agencies and users, combined with the “out-of-the-box” thinking of equipment designers is driving the rapid emergence of better and better rescue mousetraps.

It’s a good time to be in rescue, it always has been, but the versatility, precision, and safety of modern equipment sure makes our tasks easier today than ever before.

Article by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator for Roco Rescue, Inc.
Pictures courtesy of Petzl

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Tougher Penalties for Harming First Responders

Friday, June 23, 2017

House passes bill to toughen penalties for harming first responders

Washington – In response to a spike in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty in 2017, the House on May 18 passed a bill that seeks stricter penalties for people who harm or attempt to harm first responders.
The Thin Blue Line Act, sponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), would make the murder or attempted murder of a police officer, firefighter or other emergency personnel an “aggravating” factor in death penalty determinations, a press release from Buchanan’s office states. If approved, the law would apply to crimes under federal jurisdiction.

As of June 20, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund counted 63 police fatalities in 2017 – an increase of 34 percent from that same date in 2016. Twenty-two of the fatalities were firearms-related (up 10 percent from the previous year), 25 were traffic-related (up 19 percent) and 16 were from other causes (up 167 percent), according to the organization.
“America’s police officers and first responders are the first ones on scene to help those in harm’s way,” Buchanan said in the press release. “These brave men and women and their families put it all on the line and deserve our unwavering support. Getting this bill signed into law will protect those who serve our communities and send a clear message: targeting or killing our first responders will not be tolerated.”
The bill, approved by a 271-143 vote, now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Source: Safety and Health Magazine June 2017
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