Scissor Lifts + Humanity = Harnesses

19 March 2008

In this latest installment of the discussion on the use of personal fall protection systems by occupants of scissor lifts, I am going to try a different approach. Instead of attempting to qualify my pro harness opinion with a list of items designed to augment my side of the issue or diminish the other, I am going to take a broader view.

Fall protection, in all of its forms, is designed to protect a person from injuries that may be sustained as the result of a fall. It does this by either stopping the fall before impact with the ground occurs or by preventing a fall from even happening at all.

In order to justify the use of fall protection, one must first concede that a fall hazard presenting a risk of serious injury to a person is indeed present. Considering the frailty of the human body with respect to absorbing the impact of a fall, I think we can all agree that just standing on the deck of most scissor lifts, even with the platform lowered, places the body at a height that presents a significant risk of injury should a fall occur. Ergo, fall protection is required – hence guardrails are present.

To many, that is where it ends, with occupants of scissor lifts surrounded by sturdy guardrails that prevents them from moving beyond the perimeter of the platform and in doing so, prevents a fall from occurring. But it appears that since so many people are falling from scissor lifts, guardrails alone are not adequate fall protection. Some answers to this may be higher guardrails (just a thought), a supplemental fall protection system (harness/lanyard), providing occupants with meaningful training and meticulously maintaining it and so on.

In a perfect world, scissor lift operations would be conducted in a secluded area on hard level ground with no need to move and/or relocate the unit. However, scissor lifts operate in the real world where there are bumps, potholes, grades, moving vehicles, and other obstructions. Any of which may cause the unit to lurch, move abruptly or tip over. In many instances where this has occurred, the guardrails were rendered useless as the occupant(s) sailed over them.

Another unpredictable element is the human factor. Since scissor lift occupants are people we have to accept that they are potentially unpredictable. With this in mind, a scissor lift occupant/operator could react incorrectly to a situation or just make a bad decision in spite of their training and operate a control incorrectly, reach too far out of the platform, climb guardrails, etc., and find themselves on their way down.

Our instincts as a species have gotten us this far so it is not likely that humanity will overcome this inexplicable behavior in which we choose to do the wrong thing by process and/or reflex. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to expect any amount of training and/or practice will eliminate it.

That being the case, a supplemental fall protection system to augment the primary guardrail system ostensibly protects us from ourselves. This type of pro backup system thinking has become evident in technology as close to us as automobiles fitted with brakes that engage automatically under certain conditions, computers with features that prevent us from destroying data and/or systems, even industrial mobile equipment systems that monitor and govern everything constantly. This technology allows operators to manipulate the controls however they wish, however they also override the operator when certain parameters are exceeded.

These types of automatic override/backup systems are what I think of a harness as being, in a metaphorical sort of way. They will (arguably) allow you to operate the unit as you please but will prevent you from falling if you should do something wrong.

In order to justify the need for fall protection, we must first concede that a fall hazard exists, which it does and In order to justify the need for a supplemental fall protection (such as a harness) we must then concede that a risk of a fall beyond the guardrails ability to stop it is warranted and I think believe that risk exists and many others do not.

I have heard most all of the arguments against the use of harnesses on scissors and actually agree with some of them. However, I do feel that supplemental fall protection for scissor lift occupants is warranted and at the moment, a personal fall restraint system (harness and lanyard) seems to be the best way to get it done. Ultimately, I firmly believe that harnesses will save more lives than not.

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