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The Safe Move: Portable Fall Protection Systems
by Bob Babin

When accessing tanker vehicles, a fall protection system is required by OSHA regulations under the General Duty Clause. These vehicles can be very slippery from spillage of the products they carry. The ladders can be treacherous, especially in bad weather when workers are wearing heavy outer garments, boots and gloves. Adding a loading arm or hose to the installation makes the conditions even worse. The recent proliferation of ethanol plants has stimulated a need for these systems.

Portable fall protection systems are often considered when no other alternative seems practical. For example, when the area to be protected, such as a dump trailer unloading location or a tanker trailer or railcar tanker, may be moving, a portable system makes sense. Several companies offer portable systems for this purpose.

The PTA from Safe Harbor Access Systems allows a perpendicular or parallel approach for one worker.

Safe Harbor Access Systems offers a true portable passive fall prevention system with their PTA systems for tanker vehicles. The PTA is mounted on 18” diameter wheels, with a telescoping ladder operated by a hand winch, with a step off platform supporting a 4’x 6’ rectangular handrail cage. The entire the PTA is rolled into position over the tanker’s access hatch, the cage is lowered onto the top of the vehicle. The PTA is a one man system capable of handling a 500lb maximum user weight. The wheels have to be raised off the ground (by three hand jacks) to improve stability. The only drawbacks to this system are the extra time it takes to roll the system into place and set it up, the fact that the opening into the tank is not guarded and the extra storage and theft prevention requirements. Several versions are available for trailers and railcars, with designs available for approaches to the vehicle either from a parallel position or a perpendicular position.

Standfast, an Australian company, has recently introduced a unique product for use on a limited range of vehicles such as garbage trucks. The Standfast system is a fall restraint device that may serve many other applications as the product develops. The system uses a rigid trolley rail, mounted at approximate waist height on the user, with the user wearing a body belt very similar to those which were banned by OSHA for fall arrest purposes in 1998. The use of a body belt is still allowed by OSHA, but only for fall restraint (or fall prevention) but not fall arrest. The apparent reason this doesn’t create legal problems with OSHA is the way in which the system is designed to be used. The user’s tether line is very short, and the device to which the user is a short 90? arm which glides along with the user as he traverses the vehicle.

The short lifeline on the Standfast unit is positioned at the waist, so a direct 90? bend over is the only way to reach the hatch covers with the standard unit. Standfast also offers self-retracting web style lifelines called “Barnacles” for use with these systems; however I would caution the user that self-retracting lifelines, when positioned at waist height, appear to be located in a very dangerous location when used with a waist high attachment to a body belt.

Nothing is as safe and effective at saving lives and preventing catastrophic injuries as a fall arrest system. And no fall arrest systems are more effective than a trolley rail style fall protection system. Fall Protection Systems, Inc. recently introduced a transportable fall protection system known as the “Possum®”. The Possum is a trolley rail style fall arrest system mounted on a heavy-duty steel skid with built-in forklift tubes for ease of transporting. Wheeled versions are still on the drawing board. Various versions of the Possum include 20’, 30’, 40’ or 60’ long trolley rails. All are capable of supporting one or two workers simultaneously, each weighing up to 400lb. Single point attachment fall protection system versions, with a self-retracting lifeline but minus the trolley rail, are also available. One or two concrete counterweights, depending on the size of the system, are used to stabilize the system.

The Possum System, when used with a self-retracting lifeline and a fall arrest harness, easily allows the user to travel anywhere under the system and bend over without encumbering his range of motion or the effectiveness of the fall arrest system.

Note: On a very sad note, a fall occurred last month at a grain elevator in Illinois, causing the death of a long term elevator employee. I’m sad to report that even though there was a fall protection system in place over the train from which he tragically fell to his death, and even though he was a member of the company’s safety committee and had received professional training on the use of the Fall Protection Systems trolley rail fall arrest system, he failed to hook up while traversing the tops of the hopper cars. Apparently a strong gust of wind caught a lid and flipped it over, striking him and tossing him to the ground. Please, don’t let this happen to you or the people you work with. If you don’t have fall protection in place, get it! And once you have it, use it! This valued employee, family man and friend would probably be alive today if he had hooked up before traversing the railcars. Our sincere condolences go out to his family and coworkers.

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