Safe work at extreme heights
Falls from heights are among the leading causes of workplace injury and death. Laws vary by jurisdiction, but most require employers to have a written, site-specific fall protection plan when employees are working over a certain vertical height and are not protected by permanent guardrails.
There are heights — and there are extreme heights. Although it does not have a precise definition, that term is used often to describe work involving the construction and maintenance of such structures as:
• Communication towers and antennas.
• Wind turbines.
• Tall buildings.
• Power transmission lines.
Any work at heights should be properly planned and supervised. First, a risk assessment will identify and address hazards related to the work to be performed. This information helps in selection of protective equipment for the job, as well as adequate control measures and precautions to ensure the safety of workers and others — the plan.
This plan should identify the fall hazards and fall protection systems required for each area, and the procedures for using, maintaining, fitting and inspecting protection equipment. It should also include procedures for rescuing a worker who has fallen and is suspended by a personal fall protection system or safety net.
People working at heights must be trained in practical fall prevention and
fall arrest techniques. They also must know how to properly select, fit, use, inspect, and maintain the gear they will be using.
Depending on the type of tall structure, there are various means by which workers get to where they will be working — cage-protected ladders, hoists and helicopters, for example. Each will require a degree of training to ensure safety.
Weather is a major consideration, for such conditions as:
High winds. Working in them tires a person faster, so accidents are more likely to happen and rescues or evacuations will be harder to execute. Communication becomes difficult as typically the only noise one can hear on a radio or phone is the whistling of the wind, and shouting isn’t a good option.
Extreme heat or cold. All workers should be trained to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hypothermia and frostbite, as well as how to prevent them. Note that metal surfaces exposed to direct sunlight might be hot enough to cause skin burns, and that dehydration, wind burn and even sunburn can occur rapidly in cold, dry weather.
Ice and Snow. Both make tall structures quite dangerous. Additionally, sections of ice could fall to the ground and be hazardous to people and property.
Moisture. Surfaces can become very slick with rain or dew, and for that reason, climbing a wet structure is highly discouraged.
Mud. Along with precipitation comes mud, which also make climbing dangerous and poses hazards on the ground such as stuck or difficult to maneuver machinery and unstable holes or trenches.
Lightning. Being in close proximity to metal components and electrical equipment poses particular concerns during thunderstorms or lightning events. Get off the structure if either occurs or is likely to.
Being near a tall structure, especially with climbers above, can be hazardous because of falling objects. Two or more persons working at different heights can also be risky. Be aware that dropped tools or equipment not only can go straight down, they could ricochet off a section of the structure and take a different path of descent.