From staying on the ground to working safely in the air, a systemic approach to fall-protection
Look at it this way: if you don’t climb up high, you can’t fall. So your first priority in fall protection should be to keep workers on the ground as long as possible. The next approach is using fall-protection devices well.
Framing a building is inherently risky for a human body, but both techniques and devices can help to mitigate the risk of workers falling while framing a building.
Streamline by working at ground level
Working at ground level for as long as possible is the safest and simplest choice. While you’re building the structure, you haven’t built any/many upper points to anchor to for fall protection anyway, so your restraint/self-retraction devices won’t work. That makes working at ground level mandatory for a big chunk of the project, especially at the beginning.
Keeping workers on the ground for framing tasks or on the deck of the building, actually is also quite speedy and cost-effective compared to setting up scaffolding and platforms, and so on, as well.
As the walls go up, guardrails play a role, and they can be attached to the walls before the walls are stood up. Guardrails also provide a visual indicator of a safety risk to anyone on site.
Lifelines and other devices
Another factor that favors standing up complete walls, and using scaffolding, is the relative lack of strength of the structure before it’s all tied together later in the framing process. That lack of strength doesn’t really support active fall protection and the need to set up anchors. But along the way, as the framing is completed, guardrails and interior and exterior scaffolding can be used.
After the exterior is all framed and sheathed, falls to the outside will be uncommon, but falls to the inside will still need to be mitigated. Guardrails and netting are both effective, as are self-retracting lifelines. These devices have a huge advantage in that they don’t need to be adjusted repeatedly and they also allow a lot of freedom of movement.
Later on in the process, when it’s time to set the trusses, scaffolding that’s set a couple of feet down from the wall plate on the inside of the building gives the framers a safe working surface. The framers also have better leverage for working compared to standing on the top of the wall plate, which is a fairly dangerous operation. The workers have more control, and they’re not exposed to a fall to the outside of the building.
—Thomas Melendy is a Safety Consultant with Saif Corporation, and Dustin Schneider is U.S. Sales Training Manager for 3M Corporation. This video is from Oregon OSHA's YouTube channel.