Before launching into the crux of this piece, which aims to shed light on the different types of PPE that can be used as a safety measure when working at height, it is important to make it clear that an overall protection approach should be given priority in the first instance. By this we are referring to the likes of guard rails, proper IPAF and PASMA training courses for those involved at all levels in the workplace, an evaluation (and regular re-evaluation of the environmental conditions) as well as maintenance of equipment. Once all of these are taken care of then it is time to look at clothing and PPE.
The most popular PPE when working at height includes fall restraint systems and horizontal lifelines such as lanyards and anchors and hooks. In choosing which PPE is suitable for a job, the risk assessment of the job should be the main deciding factor.
The first and possibly most important type of PPE is that which is designed to prevent falls from happening. This is, of course, the ideal scenario with any job. The best way of doing this is to stop all working at height from coming into contact with hazardous positions, like open, unprotected edge zones. A restraint system is what is best for this job. This is comprised of a body support in the form of a harness or waist belt, a connecting element in the form of a lanyard or rope and a hooked connector as well as an anchorage.
Similar equipment is brought into use when aiming to position workers while undertaking tasks. This is referred to as ‘work positioning PPE’. Again, this involves harness, lanyard, hook and anchorage to complete the equipment set. Once more, similar equipment can be implemented as a fall arrest system that is designed to arrest the fall of a worker. For this a fall arrest full body harness is used in conjunction with a lanyard, which this time should have an in-built shock absorber and the ubiquitous hook and anchorage. When using this equipment, checking condition of each element is vital as its effectiveness depends on strength and condition of the weakest element.
The old adage ‘dress for the occasion’ is never truer than when working at height. You must implement common sense in the first instance, so baggy clothing that could become snagged is obviously a big no-no. Clothing should be chosen after checking on the likely weather and environmental conditions and should always favour complete overalls as they cover any loose clothing and hugely reduce the likelihood of snags. All pockets must be closed with zips or snappers in order to stop any items from falling out and potentially hitting people working below.
As always when in the workplace, practicality should be hand in hand with comfort – again the overall ticks these boxes. When the weather is bad, hooded clothing could be needed to be worn over the essential helmet, but this should not actively restrict mobility or inhibit the use of a harness. If eye protection is necessary then it should be able to be worn alongside the helmet and secured properly. In terms of the correct footwear, always wear shoes or boots with excellent grips to mitigate against slipping. If the worker is at height, but below others working at height, or likely to be working on the ground at any point then steel toe caps are advisable in case of any falling items. Strengthened soles are encouraged when working on ladders for any substantial amount of time. Finally, where gloves are concerned, these should be chosen with ease of movement as main priority and according to the environmental conditions on the day.