Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

A window washer cleaning a Toronto building was saved by his fall arrest system after an equipment malfunction caused him to drop almost 20 storeys.

At approximately 2:45 pm on April 2, 2010, an employee of Premium Window Cleaning Ltd. was on the roof of a 33-storey building, preparing to use a bosun’s chair to descend the side of the building, says Bruce Skeaff, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Labour (MOL). At that point, the seat connected to a suspended line somehow unhooked from the rope and fell.

“The worker was left hanging from the ledge and lost grip with his hands and went into a freefall to the 15th floor,” Skeaff reports. “That’s when the fall arrest system kicked in and the rope-grab locked,” he says. The worker received treatment in a local hospital for rope burns to his hands.

Premium Window Cleaning was issued a stop-work order for not having in place a written emergency rescue procedure related to the fall arrest system, says Skeaff.

While the worker escaped serious harm, falls from elevations represent a significant hazard. Information from the MOL website notes that falls are the cause of a quarter of all work-related fatalities in the province.

Devices such as bosun’s chairs should not be mistaken for fall protection, cautions Andrew Sulowski, president of Sulowski Fall Protection, a Toronto-based consulting firm. “[These] are called work-positioning systems,” Sulowski says, explaining that while they enable window washers to do their job, they do not provide adequate protection from potentially fatal falls.

“The law requires that in addition to the work-positioning system, the window washer is equipped with a fall arrest system, which, in this simple case, will consist of another rope attached to the roof [at] a different anchor point,” he says. “That rope will usually have the fall arrester, and between the fall arrester and the harness there will be a lanyard, which is either energy-absorbing or not.”
Although Sulowski recommends that qualified inspectors regularly monitor the equipment being used in fall protection, he adds that a worker should also conduct a before-use inspection on his fall arrest system.

Stakeholders must be aware of the dangers associated with being suspended from a harness for too long. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States cautions that orthostatic intolerance, or suspension trauma, may be experienced by those using fall arrest systems.

Orthostatic intolerance is caused by blood pooling in the veins when an individual is in a sedentary position. It can result in symptoms such as light-headedness, palpitations, fatigue, nausea, headache and fainting.

If prompt rescue is not possible, OSHA notes workers wearing fall arrest gear should be trained to pump their legs to activate muscles, and use of footholds can alleviate pressure.

My opinion

This report shows the need for Fall Protection training in the workplace. There has to be training for all employees including the expert training for harnesses and lanyards as well as the appropriate use of lifelines both horizontal and vertical.

The only real danger to the employee was the burns from the ropes. The worker can also improve his/her chance for survival by attaching stirrups to the harness assembly. This will allow the worker to add precious minutes to the rescue by taking the stress off the legs, which could have choked off the blood supply if the harness is worn too high.

Ackland-Grainger is a great supplier of health and safety equipment. They have a huge catalog that can be picked up almost any time. Please ensure your company has a copy for their review.

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Fall Protection’ and Working at Heights’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at info@hrsgroup.com

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS  Group Inc.

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