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Falling: It Can Happen to Anyone

- May 10, 2018 by Asher Sweet (View all posts by Asher)

On a wet day in the spring of 2015, my previous employer had just finished a complete rebuild of our fall protection system for loading rail cars and tractor trailers. This was to help combat a string of fatalities that occurred from falling at heights that have plagued our industry and to update to the current standard and iteration of fall protection systems.

Me being a young and ever fit safety person, decided that I should use the system first to make sure that it worked properly. After all, I was the person that had received the most training on the topic.

Now, the construction company had already had their employees test it the day before, and it was signed off by our engineer as safe. But I wanted to make sure that I was the first employee to put it through its paces.

It was an impressive machine, with an overhead rail system designed to keep the fall protection over the employee to prevent swinging by the employee in case of a fall. We had the latest self-retracting lanyard to catch you in case of a fall. The system would allow a rescue employee on the ground to use a pole and fork to engage the mechanism to slowly lower the employee to the ground. All the employees received 5-point harnesses to make sure that nobody fell out of his or her fall protection. We even gave the employees D-ring extenders and bootstraps, to make it easier to use the system and to make it so that they could self-rescue in order to prevent blood clotting in the legs in case help and couldn’t arrive in time.

With all this technology and all the other employees watching I donned my harness. I explained every step as I went along. First, I inspected my harness for any damage such as scrapes, scuffs, and tears. Second, I donned the top half of the harness, making sure the chest strap sat across my breastbone, and the waist belt was tight but not too tight. Third, as I got up onto the catwalk but before the fall protection was mandatory, I tightened up the leg straps so that only two fingers can get underneath. As I attached the lanyard to my D-ring and stepped out onto the truck, I felt like an astronaut getting ready to go into space.

As I started to move around on the trunk, I noticed that the system allowed me to maneuver quite easily. There was little resistance from the lanyard and the rail system always kept it just over my head. As I opened the first hatch, it seemed too easy, almost like this was a training video on how to do this job. I turned around to get to the second hatch; I had to crawl on all fours to get over it because of the loading equipment in the way. As I placed my left foot on the hatch, it slid out, because of the wet material and rain on the truck. I tried to grab for whatever I could, with no luck. In that instant, I closed my eyes and came to terms with my life.

A moment later, I open my eyes expecting to be on the other side. But there I was, staring back at everybody, their jaws on the floor. After a few moments of awkward silence, my plant manager asks if I’m okay.

“As soon as I start to breathe I’ll let you know. But go ahead and get your pictures in then get me down,” I replied.

Everyone busts out in laughter and then one of the supervisors got me down. In the end, I did everything right, and something went wrong. But because we had everything in place, I was able to go home.