Fall Protection vs. Material Handling Hazards
The Safety and Health Department has received several calls in recent months regarding project owner or general contractor safety requirements mandating ironworkers to use fall arrest systems while off-loading iron from flat-bed trucks. This is not a new development but a continuing safety issue many local unions and signatory contractors frequently encounter on projects. The International Association fully supports project safety policies designed to protect our members from fall hazards in the workplace, and we insist on strict compliance. However, requiring the installation and use of fall arrest systems on either flat-bed trailers or attached to the overhead crane load-block raises many safety concerns that must be put into perspective.
In the photo to the left, ironworkers are safely off-loading beams. Our experience over many decades tells us fall protection is not the primary safety hazard when performing this activity, but rather hoisting, rigging and material handling activities. Avoiding hazards during this activity requires the skill of qualified riggers who are trained to recognize potential hazards and perform this activity in a safe manner. The International Association is not aware of any incident trends pertaining to ironworkers falling from flat-bed trailers while off-loading structural steel members. To the contrary, incident trends indicate jobsite conditions, material handling hazards and crane operation are the primary causation factors, not falls. Unfortunately, this common activity has resulted in fatalities and serious disabling injuries to workers. Project safety requirements mandating the use of conventional fall arrest systems for this activity can create imminent danger conditions that could result in serious incidents. Prior to off-loading structural members from flat-bed trailers, qualified riggers must consider the following general items.
• Evaluating loads for shifting during transport
• Process for releasing chains and straps
• Observing jobsite conditions, obstructions and overhead power lines
• Ensure proper crane set-up, configuration and communication with crane operator
• Anticipation of boom deflection and load drift during hoisting
• Working with limited space and traffic on jobsites
• Recognition that flat-bed trailers are not designed or suitable for fall arrest systems
The photograph below illustrates a typical load of structural members delivered to the jobsite. Many proj
ects with accelerated work schedules and shared use of cranes can create the sense of urgency for off-loading trucks. Prior to releasing the chains or straps, it is important for an ironworker/qualified rigger to closely inspect all loads for structural members that could have shifted during transport from the fabrication shop to the jobsite. In many cases, large trusses and joists are loaded in a vertical position on flat-bed trailers. These can easily fall over or shift when the chains or straps are released. It is important for this operation to be performed by qualified riggers who are under the direct supervision of a competent person. Employers are responsible for designating competent persons and giving them the authority to stop any unsafe acts or conditions. This is an important element of the See Something! Say Something! campaign that can prevent serious incidents on every project throughout the United States and Canada.
The Ironworker Qualified Rigger and Signal Person Training program offered through the National Training Fund at local union training facilities helps to ensure all ironworkers engaged in off-loading structural members can safely perform this activity. Many project owners, general contractors and regulatory officials frequently request verification that members have received qualified rigger and signalperson training.