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Worker Falls to Death During Construction of Water Tower

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A recent accident involving a worker who fell from height inside the mono-tube of a water tower under construction, underscores the need to have a thorough understanding of Fall Protection systems and practices required by OSHA while undertaking hazardous work activities. It also emphasizes the importance of preplanning for rescue. Be sure to read additional comments from Roco Chief Instructor Pat Furr at the end of the article. Thanks to Dr. Skip Williams for submitting this story.

EAST WINDSOR, NJ… A worker fell nearly 50 feet to his death inside a new water tower under construction in a rural area of the township, police said. The 56 year-old man, whose name police did not release, was on a scaffold inside a tubular portion of the tower when he fell, landing on a solid floor 30 feet above the bottom of the structure. There was no water inside, and the worker was wearing a full body harness, said East Winsor Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 Chief Kevin Brink, one of the first responders on the scene. Mounting a ladder and coming up through a trap door in the floor where the man fell, Brink saw the man unconcious, unresponsive and bleeding. “I tell you this: I’ve seen worse people living,” he said. “To me, he was considered living until the paramedics pronounced him.”

The tower he was working on rises about 80 feet above the trees and farmland on Millstone Road. The familiar bubble-shaped cap that will hold water is not installed yet, and the structure yesterday looked much like a massive vase, with a dull pyramid for a bottom and a cylindrical tube mounted on top. A large crane had four metal lines grasping the top of the cylinder, and smaller cranes and trucks dotted the mud and gravel lot set back from the roadway. The victim, an employee of New Castle, Del.-based CBI Services, fell around 10:30 a.m., and was working near the top of the cylinder, Brink said. Fellow workers called 911, and police, firefighters and medical personnel rushed to the scene. The man’s colleagues entered a door at ground level and used ladders to get through the door at the bottom of the cylinder, where the man lay.

As firefighters donned equipment and prepared a basket to rush the man to a waiting ambulance, paramedics entered the structure and pronounced the victim dead. “We were just called out there for the actual rescue, unfortunately the person didn’t make it and it turned into a recovery,” Brink said. Police examined the body before firefighters put it inside the basket and lowered it out of the tower using a rope system, Brink said. By noon, the man’s body was out and ready to be turned over to the medical examiner.

A spokesperson for CBI Services would only say that an investigation is under way. Along with police and the medical examiner, both the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and OSHA responded to the scene, police said. “We’ve never really had any type of industrial accident out there,” Brink said. Unfamiliar with the layout of the tower, Brink said he initially was not sure if he would have to bring the company’s 100-foot ladder truck to reach the heights of the structure. “If he was stuck at the top, we were already starting to think about that,” he said.  Alex Zdan, Staff Writer/ New Jersey Times

NOTE:  While we were not present at the scene and don’t know all the details, here are some general comments from Chief Instructor Pat Furr concerning fall protection safety.

This incident took place while work was being done from a scaffold erected inside the tower. The worker fell from his work position and came to rest on a solid platform between the scaffold level and the ground. He was wearing a full body harness for body support as part of his personal fall protection system. However, this begs the question, “Why bother wearing a harness if the complete fall protection system is not employed?”

A complete personal fall protection system, which would be considered an active system, requires all of the components required by OSHA in order to be considered an effective/compliant means of personal fall protection. The harness is just the start. In addition to the harness for body support, there needs to be a connector attached to the appropriate point of the harness.

For fall restraint, a static lanyard can be used and connected to the rear or front waist belt attachment points of the harness (not the side attachment points); or, if desired, a body belt, or the dorsal attachment point of the full body harness. The lanyard must be adjusted to a length that does not allow the worker to fall from any exposed edges. This restraint lanyard does not need an energy absorber. If there is any potential that the worker may fall, then the lanyard must have an energy absorber that limits the impact forces at the harness to no more than 1,800 pounds. It must also limit the workers freefall to 6 feet or less.

An alternative is to use a Self-Retracting Lifeline (SRL). The third component of a personal fall protection system is a suitable anchor. The anchor point must be able to withstand a 1,000 pound force without failure for fall restraint, and a 5,000 pound force if used for fall arrest. These anchors can be as light as two times the anticipated forces if designated by a qualified person. Only one worker can be attached to the anchor point unless the minimum breaking strengths are multiplied by the number of workers using the same anchor point.

To review, the three physical components of a personal fall protection system are: (1) body support, (2) connector, and (3) anchor. For a fall arrest system, a fourth component is required, and that is prompt rescue.

This worker was on a scaffold. If the scaffold was completed with a green tag affixed, then it would have had standard guard rails to provide a passive fall restraint system and a harness would not have been necessary. If the scaffold was not completed and green tagged, then a personal fall protection system would be required.

Too often we encounter workers who are either unaware of the requirements to ensure safety at height – or choose to ignore the safety requirements that would most likely save their life or prevent serious injury. Bottom line…the use of a harness without completing the entire system only comprises 33% of the system which equates to 0% fall protection.




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