Understanding the Use of Fall Protection in Warehouse Settings
The science behind fall protection is what lifts people to new heights.
- By Carly Engels Johnston, Heidi Lopez-Hidalgo
- Oct 01, 2021
When was the last time you were in a big warehouse stocked with stuff? Think of those big shelves that extend floor to ceiling like you might see at wholesale stores or home improvement chains. Inventory is stacked on every level. How do you access these goods?
Often, in these large-scale warehouses, employees use fall protection when using a man-up lift which is needed to reach inventory on top shelves. This type of work is typically called order picking. Order pickers typically get on and off their order picker truck multiple times during a shift causing multiple hook up events for their fall protection system. With these multiple hook-up events, it is easy to forget to connect yourself at times when navigating these order picking duties. Forgetting to hook up to the fall protection system can leave the worker exposed to a fall hazard at height unknowingly.
Employers should try to improve worker safety without compromising productivity. This applies to all types of situations, but especially tasks and jobs that involve the use of fall protection equipment. Distractions or even a swift work pace can cause an order picker operator to simply forget to connect his/her fall protection equipment—potentially exposing the operator to a dangerous fall hazard.
Employers and safety managers need to help mitigate operator falling hazards where multiple on/off events throughout a worker’s shift increase the risk of “forgetting” to hook-up. Also, lack of compliance in this area can increase turnover rates and training costs.
Luckily, fall protection technology is advancing to incorporate the digital age. There are innovative fall protection solutions out there that can help improve order picker hook-up compliance in real-time. These new systems offer safety features to help operators reduce their risk when working at height. For instance, these systems can help provide:
- Detection if a worker is on an order picker platform and not tied-off to his/her fall protection system.
- Visual and audible alerts to remind the worker in the case he/she are on the order picker and not tied-off to his/her fall protection system.
- Clear visual confirmation to the worker of secure self-retracting lifeline (SRL) connection to a user’s harness back D-ring. Lights indicate a worker’s tie off status from a distance so peers and safety management can observe.
What is more, fall protection is not just static anymore.
These new fall protection systems help increase worker safety awareness through integrated visual and audible alerts such as:
- Sensor boxes that detect worker presence on order picker platform.
- SRL Connected Carabiner with multi sensor technology that can sense secure tie off status to the user’s harness D-ring.
- Lights that indicate tie-off status to machine operator, peers and site safety.
- Bluetooth Connectivity—FCC Certified Communications system to relay tie-off status between the connected carabiner, overhead sensor box and alert system.
These kinds of systems can help also increase operator and supervisor situational awareness of tie off status while working on an order picker at-height. In turn, this may help reduce fall hazards and improve connection compliance. Not only can this help improve safety culture, but it is designed to help change worker behavior. Through sensing and alerting, a worker is reminded to tie off before operating the equipment.
Now employers, safety managers and workers can use a smart connected fall protection system that can sense a worker’s presence on an order picker and detects his/her tie off status. This reinforcement from a connected system provides workers and site safety managers with real-time visual and audible feedback based on tie-off status while on an order picker. While many other industries are moving to digital tools and IoT (Internet of Things) connected products, here, working at heights is a necessary element of the job that can now benefit from technology. This is by using an innovative and connected solution designed to promote safety and situational awareness, yet at the same time, still rely on SRLs that are rugged, lightweight and carefully engineered for comfortable and efficient fall protection.
Like other SRLs out there already in use, these systems can also offer SRLs designed so that the lifeline will extend as the user moves away and retracts automatically enabling the user to move about within a recommended working area at normal speeds. Should a fall occur, a speed sensing brake system activates, stopping the fall and reducing the forces imposed on the user.
What is more, with this durable solution also comes some added piece of mind from the visual and audio alerts to help ensure workers remember to connect their fall PPE. Not only can this help increase workplace safety and foster important safety culture amongst peers, but it can help change safety processes and make steps towards reducing accidents, injuries, deaths and any incidents that need to be reported to worker safety authorities like OSHA, which can result in fines and reputational damage.
It is important to remember though that donning fall protection equipment is not enough. Workers should be trained on how to properly use this equipment for working with heights, and they must know how to inspect their fall protection components to see if there is anything that needs to be repaired or replaced. Workers also need to look out for one another and take precautions for the people working alongside them as well as those who may be above or below them. These steps are crucial when it comes to creating a safety culture that will help ensure that all the workers on your job site understand what is at stake, and everyone works together so they can return home safely at the end of their shift.
It is also important to work with a reputable manufacturer who can help you select the right fall protection system configurations given the tasks at hand and the work site. From a connected order picker SRL to hard hats, hearing protection or eye protection, there are many considerations to take into account when selecting PPE. Work with a manufacturer who provides training, technical expertise and is available to answer questions and develop solutions based on your feedback. The science behind fall protection is what lifts people to new heights. Take the time to check out the latest options and make informed decisions that can help protect you and your colleagues.
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.