Highly engineered simplicity

Although health and safety has been given far greater priority over recent years, workplace injuries are still a concern. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report 2016/17 saw an estimated 609,000 injuries and 137 deaths. Falls from height accounted for 7 per cent of non-fatal injuries reported under RIDDOR.

The personal cost can’t be quantified, but the cost to the UK economy is over £5 billion annually. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of getting fall protection measures properly in place – both from the perspective of keeping people safe while they work and protecting reputation and resilience.

A tall order

There is no doubt that worksites are complex, and with many health and safety considerations, it is imperative that fall protection is a priority. From the harshest of construction environments to the highest telecomms tower or the smallest and deepest mine, there are a lot of variables to consider. This is why it’s important to constantly develop more effective solutions to meet ever changing demands.

This is no mean feat. With new designs and modern substrates, fall protection systems need the agility to perform when working on different, often lighter and more flexible, materials. Product innovation means being able to re-engineer products and systems to meet these needs while still maximising performance.

Leaving nothing to chance

The basic rule underpinning fall protection is that nothing is left to chance. That means that every new product or link in a fall protection system must comply with stringent regulations, to ensure maximum safety. When structural materials change, so too do the forces at play if someone falls. Fall protection technology needs to continuously change to reflect these altered circumstances.

It’s not just different materials that need to be accounted for, it’s also changing working practices. A good example of this is the transmission tower. In the past, workers had to physically climb the structures to maintain them. Today, maintenance departments investigate and utilise mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs) where appropriate, which need completely different fall protection solutions.

Constant changes to materials, designs and the built environment call for a continuous product innovation. Photograph: MSA Safety

Simplicity that inspires confidence

As these new solutions evolve, it naturally means that more and more systems are being used for fall protection. This can lead to confusion when selecting an effective combination of products. Plus there is the increased risk associated with choosing non-compatible products. For this reason, MSA’s skilled engineers create solutions that, while meeting complex needs, are still simple to understand and use.

When developing new products, it is important to look for simplification by ensuring individual elements (harnesses, lifelines, helmets etc) work seamlessly together, and also with other products. This simple ‘ecosystem’ is both easy to use and understand and provides one of the highest levels of protection available.

It’s only by truly understanding the engineering complexities of fall protection needs that you can design a purposeful solution.

Designed to meet a need

Our specialist engineers work closely with our customers in order to appreciate the detailed needs of the application rather than starting from the perspective of providing a solution that is in search of a problem.

To ensure we deliver truly great products, we have engineers dedicated to specific industries, for example offshore wind farms. If you have a Self-Retracting Lifeline out at sea, how do you reduce the time and cost needed for the repairs? The solution we found was to engineer products that can be serviced in 15 minutes on location. This meets a real user need that can only be fully understood by experiencing the environment first hand.

We take a lot of inspiration from other industries. Take automotive for example: in Formula One racing, safety is paramount. And race cars are built with the most intricate, detailed engineering you can imagine and you, of course, can’t see that detail in the final car. Fall protection is the same, it is developed around the most advanced engineering, yet customers ultimately get a simple, easy-to-use product.

Setting the standard, looking ahead

Fall protection standards are evolving at pace and MSA is involved in keeping that impetus going. Our UK Centre of Excellence and the Global strength of the MSA brand help us lead the way in terms of developmental and batch performance testing. Even products launched 20 years ago still exceed the standards and test requirements required today.

In many ways, everything we do is about taking the complex and making it simple. Precision engineering, sophisticated enough to do the work for you: innovation, learning from other industries and pushing the boundaries. And of course, testing above and beyond the latest standards.

When it comes to fall protection, ongoing evolution is imperative. Materials, designs and the built environment change constantly and this calls for a continuous cycle of newer and better products. All of these have engineered simplicity at their heart – simplicity of use, simplicity of choice, simplicity of peace of mind. It’s what gets workers safely home to their families every night. And it’s our message to the industry – get your engineering right, and everything else will fall into place.

We believe that success in fall protection is all about engineering integrity and engineered simplicity is fundamental to success.

Andrew Pass is global engineering manager for fall protection engineered systems at MSA Safety