26 May “Fixed ladder safety systems on towers, the do’s and don’ts”
“Fixed ladder safety systems on towers, the do’s and don’ts”
Of all of the crews that I work with in the tower industry, I feel that fixed ladder safety systems (or a cable grab as we commonly call it) are one of the most misunderstood items in their daily routine. Climbers often ask: Can these cables be used for the purposes of positioning? Can the cable be used as an emergency anchor in a rescue? How many climbers can be attached to it at the same time? Should it be tagged and rated at the ground? Can I grease my device or hang a weight on it to help it descend the cable more efficiently? These are all items that are critical to life safety and it can be frightening to hear some responses from climbers as far as their interpretations of these topics go.
Here are some key points regarding these systems:
1. In OSHA, there are two main places that they discuss fixed ladders where it really applies to tower climbers: 1926 Subpart X (Construction section) and 1910.1053 (General Industry). There are similarities in each section however they deliver a similar message about how strong one of the systems should be (assuming that they are in good working order which is not always the case). A climber should never be connected to a cable system by means of anything that is longer than around 9 inches. The big reason for this is fall forces, a climber falling creates a very large force that increases exponentially and can overload the system if large fall distances are applied. These systems are required to withstand a drop test with a 500 pound weight, and that is why we say to never have more than two climbers on one cable at a time. We must calculate worst case scenario, such as everyone falling at the same time. So, this brings up an interesting point regarding the question of “how much static weight are the systems designed to handle?”. The answer to me is none… They are designed as a backup device in a fall, not a working setup to hang on. If we needed to use it in an emergency situation then we would (maximum two person load), but not for everyday rigging.
2. OSHA also require keepers to be added to the cable at a maximum spacing of 40 feet on the tower “if it is exposed to wind”. Has anyone ever been on a tower outdoors that was not exposed to wind? This keeps the cable from slapping the tower in the wind and weakening and/or damaging it. I cannot tell you how many towers that we have arrived at and the cable was left outside of the keepers and it is slapping the side leg right in front of us. How long has that been going on, and is the cable now safe? If there is ever a question, use an alternate means of attachment for the first climber up the tower. If an inspection can then be done, act accordingly.
3. OSHA requires an inspection of the system prior to use. The structural anchor of this system is at the top of the tower, so how do we inspect from the ground prior to use? We typically suggest for the first climber up tower to use an alternate means of attachment such as double leg lanyards until the cable has been deemed inspected and safe for use.
4. Greasing the cable grab or hanging additional weight on it (such as a climbers lanyard hook) to defeat the safety functions would be extremely dangerous. This may even be considered a “willful” safety violation in OSHA’s eyes if an accident occurs. Fines of these nature would likely put a smaller size company out of business.
Modern equipment is only as good as the climber who is using it. I feel that most accidents in our industry today can be attributed to either improper use of gear or not using the gear at all.