Ensure Fall Protection Equipment is Inspected

In an interesting California Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board reconsideration, a serious violation citation was upheld for a company’s failure to properly inspect fall protection arrest systems prior to use.

Cal/OSHA Construction Safety Order Personal Fall Arrest Systems, Personal Fall Restraint Systems and Positioning Devices (8 CCR § 1670(b)(15)) states, “Personal fall arrest systems must be inspected prior to each use for wear, damage, and other deterioration and defective components shall be removed from service”. Also, a defect is defined in Cal/OSHA Construction Safety Order Definitions (8 CCR § 1504) as “Any characteristic or condition which tends to weaken or reduce the strength or the safety of the tool, machine, object, or structure of which it is a part.”

In this case, lanyards had been used by the workers earlier in the day and it appears (according to the administrative law judge) that the employees had indeed inspected the lanyards prior to use. So, what went wrong and why the serious violation? Later that day a Cal/OSHA inspector arrived at the job site and upon examination of the lanyards found a defect with the snap hooks. While the employees, including the foreman charged with safety concerns had conducted an inspection, it was cursory, and they failed to test the snap hooks on the lanyard by pulling them back wide and releasing the button.

The employer argued that even if the snap hooks were used in their defective state, they did not expose employees to a potential fall hazard. However, from a previous Appeals Board decision Cal/OSHA need only prove that a condition or practice prohibited by a safety order exists. The purpose of the snap hook is to connect the worker to fall protection, thus it was determined a defective snap hook exposes an employee to a potential fall hazard and since the workers were working from a height of 130 feet the probability of a serious injury or death exists.

In order to uphold an alleged violation as “serious”, the Division normally offers evidence of employer’s knowledge that it knew of the violation or could have known with the exercise of reasonable diligence. Does the foreman or supervisor who is responsible for employee safety and supervision have knowledge or should have knowledge of the hazard? In this case it was determined he did or should have.

Bottom Line: Ensure your inspections are conducted and complete, this would apply for any equipment where inspections are required including scaffolding, shoring, forklifts, machine guards, ladders, personal protective equipment — the list goes on and on. Make sure that the equipment is closely examined and that a defect or unsafe condition doesn’t exist and if present that the equipment is immediately taken out of service. Also confirm you can demonstrate (usually by documentation) that the inspections were performed.


Note: This information was provided by Tim Bormann, CIH, FAIHA, The Cohen Group

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