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How We Made Scaffolding Work Safer in Italy

Working at height is one of the most dangerous occupations. Erecting scaffolding in challenging industrial environments such as oil refineries involves serious fall risks, especially with limited anchorage options available for this type of work.

SAIT, an Italian leading company for scaffolding, specialized in the marine and industrial sectors, partnered with Honeywell and its Italian distributor, Boursier, to install scaffolding at several large oil refineries in Italy.

Find out how the three companies approached construction site hazards.

The problem

During scaffolding work, ensuring that employees are safely anchored at all times is a top challenge. The fall risk assessment performed by SAIT identified several problems that made it difficult to implement a fall protection plan:

1.       Differently-sized scaffolding boards

As scaffolding boards had different sizes compared to the layout of cooling towers and heat exchangers, implementing a fall protection plan was a real challenge for SAIT. As the work progresses, if the lanyard attached to a worker’s safety harness and anchored to a point at the end of each scaffolding board has a fixed length,– normally 1.5 or 1.8 meters (5 or 6 feet) – the worker is at risk.

Some of the scaffolding boards used by SAIT were 2.6 meters long (8.5 feet), so workers found themselves in the situation of not having enough rope, being forced to detach themselves from one anchorage to another, and thus exposing themselves to the risk of falling.  

2.       Fixed lanyard length

The existing boards were risky as well, since using excess rope is a dangerous tripping hazard when working at height.

3.       Little vertical clearance

According to legal requirements in Europe, fall protection must be assured for heights above 2 meters (6.5 feet).

How to protect scaffolders at low heights, when there’s no time to arrest a fall? This was another top challenge for SAIT, the workers being at great risk of hitting the ground and suffering life-threatening injuries because of falling from a two meters height.

We have written an article on how to correctly calculate fall clearance, here.

4.       Lanyard exposure to chemicals

Lanyards were at risk, too. Their exposure to the chemical environment in refineries brought the risk of early damage and shorter service life. 

The solution 

“To address such risks, we followed the National Institute for Health and Safety at Work’s guidelines on temporary work at height and looked for a fully-compliant quick-response fall arrest solution that could be used even with fall factors of 1 or 2 ”, says Lorenzo Cimmino, health and safety manager at SAIT.

“What put SAIT workers at even greater risk was the lack of higher anchorage points. Overhead anchor points are always the safest option as they ensure a quicker fall arrest and minimize the risk of the so-called ‘pendulum’ effect. Until the upper levels of the scaffolding are built, however, foot-level attachments are often the only option so SAIT needed a flexible fall arrest solution that could be used safely with different anchorage points,” he adds.

The solution came from Honeywell and Italian company Boursier, specialized in industrial maintenance: Honeywell’s Miller Turbolite self-retracting lifeline (SRL) and Titan 2-point safety harness.

With a 2-meter (6.5-foot) lifeline, Miller Turbolite was created to give workers enough radius to move safely along scaffolding boards, no matter their length.

The front and rear anchorage points make the Titan safety harness easily attachable to two lifelines simultaneously, which means that workers don’t need to detach from one point to attach to the next one. Its self-retracting feature offers workers the option to pull out only the needed amount of line, thus reducing trip hazards.

The reduced fall arrest distance problem was solved, too, as the SRL's quick-locking mechanism has a fall factor of 2 (at heights as low as 4 meters – 13 feet above ground), even if the anchorage point is at foot level. This flexibility made worker protection possible even at lower heights.

Thus, when overhead anchorage wasn’t an option, SAIT workers were able to attach themselves to anchorage points on the building structures and pull out a part of the lifeline sideways. With the scaffolding boards being 1.60-meter (5.2-foot) wide, there would only be about 40 cm (15.7 inches) of lifeline left so that, even at heights as low as 2 meters, SAIT could avoid the risk of a worker hitting the ground before the lifeline arrested the fall.

Honeywell Miller Turbolite’s engineered webbing is made of vectran / polyester which offers excellent abrasion resistance and high strength. Its impact-resistant nylon housing limits the exposure to chemicals and other substances to the minimum, thus extending the service life. Moreover, it is easy to notice if the system has been exposed to a fall or damages and needs to be replaced, due to a highly visible fall arrest indicator on the webbing.

How the application succeeded

Boursier partnered with Honeywell more than 20 years ago.

“Not only was Honeywell able to provide us with all the necessary technical documentation that SAIT requested and evidence compliance with the National Institute for Health and Safety at Work’s guidelines, but also offered training on the use of the fall protection equipment, particularly the visual fall arrest indicator”, says Andrea Boursier, managing director of Boursier.

Boursier intends to extend the use of the fall protection equipment to other industrial applications, too, after supplying SAIT with almost 350 Miller Turbolite SRLs and 430 Titan safety harnesses.

SAIT was enthusiastic about Honeywell’s compliant and comprehensive fall arrest solution that gave workers the confidence to perform their tasks safely in demanding industrial applications.

“Given how easy and comfortable it is to use, we are confident that this technology will not only help us take the safety of our scaffolders to new heights but also have a positive impact on productivity. Although it is still early days, we have already noticed that they are able to perform their tasks more easily and quickly,” explains Lorenzo Cimmino, health and safety manager at SAIT.

More information about our fall protection solutions, here.