Dan Hannan, CSP

A common belief is that success favors those that are active rather than passive. Hitting things head-on and hard directs the outcome, while being passive leaves you vulnerable. When it comes to safety, and in particular fall protection, we often find the exact opposite to be true. To find the best fit-for-purpose solution we must thoroughly evaluate fall protection options and strategically apply a hierarchy of controls to our projects. This purposeful approach can drive successful safety outcomes and simultaneously support lean initiatives and sustainability efforts by considering ease of use, overall risk reduction, material savings, and cost.

As safety professionals, we describe safety systems as either “active” or “passive” to identify the type and amount of interaction required by the worker. Active systems include personal fall arrest equipment, while safety nets and guardrails are considered passive systems. Where fall hazards exist, OSHA compliant options for employers include: personal fall arrest systems, safety nets, administrative controls (fall protection plans), and engineered guardrails. What to choose? In my opinion, success favors those that pursue solutions based on the acronym KISS—Keep It Simple Stupid! Where a choice exists the fewer moving parts, inspections, and decisions that need to be made by the worker the better.

Asking a worker to inspect, don, and then properly use all of the components of a personal fall arrest system can be challenging. We see this most often with decisions involving connecting to suitable anchor points or determining necessary clearance distances to ensure a worker doesn’t hit the ground before fall arrest equipment stops them. In situations where a passive guardrail system can be used it allows a “set it and forget it” application of fall protection which protects everyone within that work zone. Combating human error with the use of simple passive solutions provides the greatest degree of risk reduction.

Guardrail systems have been around well before the advent of workplace fall protection standards. Wood, cable, and metal pipe are common components that can be used to construct a guardrail as long as the system meets the performance requirements of the OSHA standard. Things employers should consider when choosing the type of guardrail system include:

  • Ease of installation—the labor effort and cost associated with setting up, moving, and removing the guardrail system
  • Drop protection—guardrails not only protect workers but prevent debris and tools from becoming threats by the use of debris netting and integrated toe-boards
  • Tools required – use of circular saws, nail guns, and other power tools expose workers to additional risk of injury and additional drop hazards on leading edges
  • Maintenance and repair—how much repair or maintenance of the guardrail will be required over the life of the project and future projects
  • Reuse—can the components be reused over or will the material be discarded resulting in new material purchase and disposal costs
  • Life-cycle—is the guardrail system subject to being easily damaged, rust, or wear
  • Handling—are the components packaged to be easily moved or are they lose requiring significant handling
  • “Green” solution—does the guardrail system align with a corporate environmental-friendly approach to the construction process

The Hilmerson Safety Rail System™ is an innovative new guardrail system designed specifically to meet the challenges of the construction industry. To learn more visit the Hilmerson Safety website.