Your company is or will be outfitting distribution linemen with fall protection belts that stop falls immediately on cutout. Why then, when considering fall protection equipment for transmission climbers, would you choose equipment that allows linemen to fall over four feet, hitting numerous step bolts and potentially their heads into the tower at close to 15 miles per hour?
Is it because IEEE 1307-2004 paragraph 4.4.5 Fall Clearance Distance states: “The worker shall not contact any lower level. Lower level does not include structure bracing members or supporting vertical structures.”
It seems to us that it doesn’t matter if you hit the lower level or the bracing or the vertical structure. The potential damage to the lineman will be the same—broken bones, lacerations, paralysis or even death.
Let us explain the issue. Common when climbing is the use of double-legged shock absorbing lanyards. These lanyards are typically known as Y-lanyards and have safety hooks on all three legs of the “Y.” The hook on the short end of the “Y” attaches to the back D-ring of the full body harness and the other two hooks are used to attach to the structure, step bolts or anchor points while climbing. Y-lanyards are typically either four or six feet in length.
When a climber falls, the lanyard will stretch to its full length, plus a portion of the shock absorber elongates (up to an additional 42 inches). This means the climber could fall from four to 9-1/2 feet, impacting any structure and or objects in the path of the fall. In addition, as the lanyard elongates, it will also pull the climber back toward the structure.
Utilities understandably comply with recommendations of IEEE 1307-2004, but why not exceed them to provide a safer practice for linemen and minimize the risk of falling and injury? As the IEEE 1307-2004 paragraph 6.1 Introduction states: “Where the structure is not equipped with a permanently installed fall protection system, other fall protection systems such as double belting, or the use of a hook, rope grab, and lifeline are available. The use of such methods can increase climber fatigue due to continually connecting and disconnecting these devices during ascent and descent. In addition, it forces the climber to focus on matters other than the primary objective, climbing. Therefore, a qualified climber may climb and change work positions without utilizing fall protection equipment.”
So what can you do to minimize the hazards of falling? One answer is to select equipment that immediately stops the fall. With a permanent system, such as the one referenced above in paragraph 6.1, the fall is stopped within a maximum of two feet. In addition, these are cable-based systems that are attached to the front D-ring of the climber’s harness with a cable grab, so falls tend to move the head away from the structure and not in to it.
The result during a fall on one of these systems is usually a couple of bumps and bruises, but typically that is all. In addition to better protecting the lineman, you will get acceptance because, if installed properly, they operate close to free climbing.
Can’t afford to install these permanent systems on all existing structures? Put them on those that are climbed frequently, such as those with cell antennas or strobe lights. For new transmission lines, install them on all structures. They are a small portion of the capital cost of building the line and can be used to protect the linemen. That is when the structures will be climbed the most often and, as a result, the risk of falling on them the greatest.
About the Author: Tim O’Brien is a partner in High Zone Safety, LLC, a company dedicated to developing and providing fall protection solutions for high voltage transmission structures.