A worker is fifteen feet above the ground in a factory one afternoon, changing a filter on a machine. As there are no guardrails on the machine, and because his employer wants to be sure he is following OSHA's fall protection regulations, he wears fall protection equipment when working at heights. This employee is wearing a full-body harness and a lifeline. The harness and lifeline are made by two different equipment manufactures. While the worker regularly checks his harness, the lifeline is an older model he found hanging in the back of the equipment closet that hasn't been used in over a year, since a fellow employee slipped and fell, hanging briefly from it. Because of the angle of the machinery and its height, the anchorage is positioned on a beam between the machine being worked on and the wall. The anchorage was installed by one of the company technicians last year. As the worker hunches over the machine in question, he doesn't have very much foot space; part of his work boot hangs off the ledge. The anchorage is behind him and to his right. If he falls, do you think he's protected?

Falls remain the number one killer of workers in the construction industry and the number two killer of workers in private industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the statistic that more and more safety personnel are being handed when told to go find a safety solution for the company's work-at-heights jobs. What OSHA requires is that any employee on a working or walking surface with an unprotected edge four feet or more above the lower level needs to be protected from falling by a guardrail system, safety net, or personal fall arrest system. What OSHA does not say is how to determine which system to select, how to train workers to use it, or the positive and negative attributes of each system. Fortunately, there is a new standard that does: ANSI Z359, the managed fall protection standard. It's newer, it's better, and it does what it says: it protects workers from falls.

Need for a new standard

What many employers at construction and general industry sites do not realize is that OSHA's regulations are neither comprehensive enough; as well, they certainly are not clear and leave room for much confusion. What OSHA provides is the bare minimum. A company can be following OSHA regulations and a worker could still fall to his death. For example, in the OSHA system steel workers are allowed to work at heights up to thirty feet without wearing fall protection. In the absence of any clear guidelines and standards, most companies opt for what appears to be the easiest and cheapest fall protection option: fall arrest equipment. It requires a relatively small initial cost and very little redesign of the workplace or task.

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