The CNESST Act provides that in Québec, any building taller than 3 meters must be equipped with a fall protection system when roof maintenance requires being 2 meters or closer to the edge. Although lifelines and anchor points can protect workers at height, they do have their limits.
How Lifelines and Anchor Points Work
A lifeline is a safety device comprised of a minimum of two anchor points between which a cable or rope is connected. When working at height, a person equipped with a harness would attach it to the lifeline for fall protection. The lifeline has a shock absorber to cushion impacts to the extremities in case of a fall. Anchor points provide a secure point of attachment strong enough to stop and hold the user up during a fall.
These two mechanisms unfortunately do not have any advantages:
- Unlike work platforms or guard rails, they do not stop falls, but simply limit fall distance
- If installed below head level, that increases the free fall distance and thereby degree of impact
- When anchor points are near sharp edges, the fall arrest system may get damaged
- If any anchoring, attachment, or harness elements are altered as a result of heat or wear, or if the equipment is not correctly set-up, the whole system is weakened
- A lifeline as an anchor point doesn’t eliminate the risk of falling objects
- The user of a lifeline or anchor point should never be alone
- Pull tests on anchor points are rarely executed.
Fall Restraint Systems
Unlike fall-arrest systems that protect workers in case of a fall, fall restraint systems aim to prevent the risks of falls. When working at height is inevitable, we examine the implementation of fall protection systems that guarantee the highest level of safety by focusing on collective fall protection measures. This could include, for example:
- A guard rail that prevents falls and delineates a dangerous zone
- A platform that allows work on a secure area
- Stairs that provide safe access
Permanent installations are preferred.
Only when it is impossible to put into place sufficient collective fall protection measures to ensure the safety of workers is the use of fall-arrest systems considered.
Working at height involves major risks, and the resulting falls remain the leading cause of serious injury and death in workplace accidents. Personal fall protection only makes it possible to secure the user in case of a fall but does not prevent falls; therefore, it should never replace fall restraint systems, which help prevent falls, but it should be used to complement the former when it is not sufficient to ensure safety or is impossible to implement.