While doing routine maintenance work on aircraft, workers have to be high above the ground near the top of airplanes’ fuselage and wings. At these points, the workers are high enough to be at risk of serious injury in the event of a fall to a lower level. A person falling from such heights, without any fall protection measures or prevention equipment, may suffer from serious injury or even death.
Some workers and even management think the use of fall protection equipment to be optional. In reality, there are strict and binding requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for such systems. OSHA requires that personnel working on surfaces with an unprotected side that is 4 feet above the level surface shall be protected from falling by the use of some type of fall protection system. The OSHA recommendation is a minimum requirement as one can fall from any height. To protect workers on top of aircraft, many maintenances and hangar facilities must provide fall arrest systems with which the workers connect while they work.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of a serious fall while working in a hangar. The first one is fall prevention. With fall prevention, the workplace is modified in such a way to reduce fall hazards. This includes several measures such as installing protective railings or using mobile work platforms with suitable guard rails.
A fall restraint system uses safety devices and equipment which prevent a fall from height. This includes lanyards, anchor points, and harnesses. Fall restraints keep the worker from reaching the edge and that prevents a fall.
There are several types of fall arrest systems that are typically used in aviation industry applications. Depending on the specific application and situation, a fall arrest system can be a cable system, monorail tracks, traveling bridges, or a mobile fall protection system.
With a job that requires access at a height and also spans a large area, often the wing of the aircraft, a horizontal lifeline should be used. Such a horizontal lifeline normally has a cable running between two anchor points. Its length can be directly determined by the space that needs to be covered. All lanyards are connected to an anchor point.
Guidelines for the inspection of OSHA fall protection equipment require employers to conduct periodic equipment inspections on harnesses, lanyards, lifelines, and self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) to ensure that their equipment is in a good condition and complies with the required safety standards. Equipment for fall protection should be checked by the worker before each use and inspected at least once a year by an individual designated as a safety officer.
Whether it is due to heavy usage or from exposure to harsh weather, equipment for fall protection may be worn out or damaged to the point that it is no longer safe to use it. Broken hooks, tears, rips, and failed latches, corrosion may occur with the equipment. Also if the equipment is stored in an unprotected environment, it may deteriorate due to mildew, bugs, and other threats that it may undergo. Pre-use inspection of the integrity and functionality of the fall protection equipment helps in discarding any equipment that does not meet the manufacturer’s specifications.
Before each use, the worker should carry out a safety harness inspection. While inspecting your harness look for any torn or stretched stitching. Check rivets if they are missing or broken. Examine all the buckles, webbing, belt ends, and D-Rings carefully. Your life could be saved by these few minutes of inspection.
During an inspection, self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) need a little more attention than other pieces of fall safety equipment since many of their components are not visible. The housing contains, cables, springs, pressure plates, etc. which are not open to view. Ensure that all markings and labels are intact and visible and look for damage to the lifeline, housing, and connectors. If any damage is found, discard that equipment from use.
It is recommended that all fall protection equipment be tested by a trained expert at least every six months. However, at the beginning of the workday, it is strongly recommended that each user complete a fall safety equipment inspection personally.
Most of the time, it’s due to a lack of proper maintenance or inspection that the equipment fails. Immediately after a fall, horizontal lifeline systems must be tagged out and tested. In any case, the horizontal lifelines should be routinely inspected and repaired whenever necessary.
Below are some general, but not all, criteria for horizontal lifeline inspection:
The vertical lifeline equipment should be periodically inspected. Inspections of the fall protection system should be performed before each use according to the instructions of the manufacturers. Ensure that an individual accredited to OSHA standards has formally inspected the system within the year.
Vertical lifeline equipment checks include:
If a fall occurs with the ladder protection sleeve, the whole system must be locked out for a formal review before it is used again.
A yearly inspection is also required for rigid rail fall arrest systems. As with vertical and horizontal lifelines, immediately after a fall, the device must be tagged out and inspected.
Some workers despite training and instructions do not use protective measures. They believe with the experience they have they are not at risk of injury. Unfortunately, accidents can still happen, the equipment can fail and if proper precautions are not taken may result in injury or even death. A worker who violates the safety rules should be reprimanded and repeat offenders should be removed from work.
Maintenance personnel and management must recognize the need for using fall safety systems. The line supervisor should ensure that workers know how to use the safety systems and use them consistently, as there is no excuse whatsoever for not using them. If used correctly, the number and severity of injuries caused by falls can be significantly reduced by these safety systems. It is also essential to have the fall safety systems routinely checked and tested according to industry standards.
e2b calibration can conduct on-site inspections of your safety equipment and provide you with a detailed inspection report giving their condition based on manufacturer’s specifications while meeting OSHA guidelines. We are an ISO-17025: 2017 compliant lab and registered with ANAB. We are also ANSI/NCSL Z540-1-1994 certified. For more information on our on-site service offerings contact e2b calibration.
Should aircraft tools be calibrated in an accredited calibration lab?
Find out in our guide.