This past month there was a safety incident on one of the projects that my company was engaged in completing quality control inspections. The fortunate outcome was that the individual that was injured on the project was not as seriously injured as he could have been considering the nature of the incident. The reason for my mention of this incident in this blog is due to the circumstances surrounding this incident because on the surface the contractor had employed all of the safety methods designed to prohibit this type of occurrence.

The roofing mechanic was working on metal roof deck located approximately 20 feet above the ground. The contractor was in the process of removing deteriorated metal deck, which left an opening in the roof. The roofing mechanic was properly tied off with an approved safety harness and the open area was properly flagged off. The mechanic fell into the opening and the safety harness was employed and left him dangling above the concrete floor surface.

All of the safety methods worked to this point.

Unfortunately — and this is the point that I want to make — at this point the unexpected occurred. The harness rubbed against the jagged edge of the metal deck and with his weight adding force the harness was sheared apart and he fell to the ground. The fact that he was not the full 20 feet above the surface and because the fall protection system had stopped his momentum — even temporally — probably prevented more serious injury.

However, the broken bones that he incurred should not have happened because it was the failure of the safety equipment that created the injuries.

The project was shut down for a week while the general contractor and the roofing contractor determined the best type of safety equipment that could be used to eliminate shearing of the harness when in contact with metal decks.

The lesson learned is that there are substandard safety equipment materials just as there are substandard construction materials. The difference is that a safety failure has a much greater cost. Perhaps we need to start evaluating these materials more closely and ensuring that the safety personnel that are employed on these projects fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of these materials in the environment in which they are used.