Equipment Notes: It’s Time to Change
Updating Your Ladder Safety Systems
by Dan Dallenbach, territory sales manager, Roofmaster
(Editor’s Note: Dan Dallenbach has 25 years of sales and marketing experience in the roofing industry, both in manufacturing and distribution. He has spent the last several of those years with Roofmaster® Products Company.)
The Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries routinely lists falls as a leading cause of workplace fatalities. As of late 2018, ladder cages are no longer approved for use as fall protection devices on any new installations, regardless of the industry. OSHA’s most recent fall protection standard allows for existing cages to be used until November 18, 2036. However, any cages on fixed ladders that must be repaired or replaced must be done in accordance with the new standard. This means that a ladder safety system must be installed to replace cages. A vertical lifeline cable system is an option that’s easy to install and deploy.
One major drawback to using a cage for fall protection is that a worker must actively interact with the ladder for it to be effective. In other words, the worker must do something. In many cases, that may be difficult, if not impossible. For example, if a rung breaks or a worker’s foot slips off the ladder, the human and perfectly natural thing to do is panic. That’s where a personal fall protection system shines. The system works automatically should the worker fall.
Additionally, a cage is rigid, unmoving, and unchangeable. Contractors come in all shapes and sizes. A ladder cage that’s suitable for a large, robust worker may not work as well for a smaller person on the crew. A personal fall protection system is adaptable. The harness used is chosen and adjusted specifically for the person wearing it.
Note that a standard personal fall limiter or self-retracting lifeline can be used as long as other criteria are met, including anchorage and attachment points. This is where the two systems differ. In a ladder fall arrest system, the connecting device is actually a stationary component. This is either a fixed cable or a track system, sometimes called a rail. Both types run the entire height of the ladder, and in some cases, longer.
Ladders that terminate at the landing point need to be extended so that the worker can exit the ladder safely. The cable or track also serves as the anchor point to the ladder. A fall arrest device attaches to the cable, while the device clips into the rail system. The harness attaches to the fall arrest with a D-ring. However, the harness is constructed with a D-ring on the front of the webbing. This keeps the attachment close to the worker’s body, a requirement of OSHA, which requires that the attachment must be no longer than 9”. Therefore, attaching to a back-mounted D-ring won’t meet the requirements.
A cable or rail system allows the fall arrest to glide smoothly while the worker ascends or descends the ladder. This keeps both hands free for climbing. In the event of a fall, the device quickly grabs the cable or rail and stops the worker’s unplanned descent within seconds. This keeps the arresting force minimal and reduces the potential risk of injury. Add to that the fact that a fallen worker can usually self-rescue and you can see the massive benefits of a ladder-mounted personal fall arrest system.
If you already have a ladder cage in place, you can still install a personal fall arrest system inside the cage, attached to the ladder. The system will work seamlessly with the cage and it will not interfere with workers as they ascend and descend. While you have plenty of time to change from a cage to a personal fall arrest system and avoid noncompliance, in reality, the time to change is now.