Attic work, such as the installation of insulation and running wiring or plumbing, can be hazardous to construction crewmembers. Attics are typically poorly-lit, cramped, often hot or freezing cold, and there are usually multiple obstructions, such as roof trusses or vent stacks, present. All of these things can contribute to a worker's likelihood of falling to the next lower level. That is why protecting attic workers from injuries sustained in a fall is a must; below are a few things you can do to keep your workers safe.
Install attic flooring
The best option, though also often the costliest and most time-consuming, is to install permanent plywood flooring on the ceiling joists. This flooring eliminates the need to use other fall mitigation measures, provided there are no open spaces around the edges of the flooring where a worker could fall. In that case, however, you will still need to use other measures to protect your workers. Keep in mind that permanent attic flooring installation is a valuable option for future home residents, both for safety and storage. As a result, you may be able to recoup your expense by providing for floor installation in the contract with the client.
Implement fall restraint measures
Another option available to contractors for attic workers is the use of fall restraint measures, sometimes called positioning device systems,. Don't confuse fall restraint with fall protection; from a regulatory standpoint, fall restraint is treated differently by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Fall protection is informally defined as the mitigation of the consequences of falling, while fall restraint is the act of preventing a worker from falling in the first place. While fall prevention is the ultimate goal of any safety-conscious worker, only fall protection can keep a worker from being hurt should the fall actually occur.
Fall restraint measures include the use of worker-worn safety belts attached to anchoring points by the use of tethers or leads. Broad latitude is granted when using fall restraint measures, since the worker never actually is in danger of falling, if these systems are used properly. However, if a would-be fall restraint measure permits a worker to enter a situation where an actual fall could occur, then the fall restraint measure has failed. For example, if a tether is too long for a worker and permits them to fall over an edge, then a mere fall restraint system is inadequate and likely will not protect a worker from injury.
For the contractor, the bottom line is to provide what is needed for each individual worker in a given situation. Fall restraint systems are a viable option if the environment permits, but keep in mind that if there is no reasonable way to prevent a worker in the attic from approaching a fall zone, then you must implement fall protection systems.
Use personal fall arrest measures
As discussed, fall protection measures are a means of protecting attic workers from injuries or death, should a fall actually occur. A common subset of fall protection equipment used is the personal fall arrest system (PFAS). To be considered a PFAS under OSHA regulations, several important criteria must be met, including:
- Anchorage—This is where the worker's lanyard attaches to a secure holding point. This point must be able to withstand 5,000 pounds of falling force, so tying off to vent stacks, conduit and other like structures is unacceptable. Use dedicated anchor points, designed and installed for that purpose, or be sure that other alternative anchorages, such as truss beams, are suitable.
- Body harness—Unlike a belt that can be used in a fall restraint system, workers must wear a full harness when exposed to fall protection environments. These harnesses are able to distribute the shock of a fall across the body and will not cause injuries that might result from a belt. Be sure that any harnesses used are in excellent condition and have been approved for use in fall protection. Never use a harness that is damaged in any way, including fraying or exposure to chemicals which may weaken the material.
- Connector—The third component in a fall protection system is the connecting device that links the harness to the anchorage point. This connector can be made from a variety of materials, including steel or rope, and it can also be retractable. Connectors should also be able to withstand shock, so be sure that any you choose to purchase are rated for 5,000 pounds of force. Finally, choose colors that are able to be easily-seen in a poorly-lit attic, such as high-visibility yellow or green.