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Common Crane Rail Fall Protection Myths

Jan 20, 2014 10:22:30 AM

Overhead cranes, bridges, trolleys, rails and runway systems commonly found in steel, foundry, manufacturing, and material handling environments are central to efficient plant operation, but the frequent inspection and maintenance requirements posed by this equipment requires your employees and outside contractors to work at heights.  Mitigating this risk requires the installation and proper use of a fall protection system, propositions that are often met with significant resistance, both from plant employees and management.  What follows is a partial list of objections, concerns, and myths we commonly hear when we are discussing crane rail fall protection systems in the field.

The length of our crane rail is so large that installing a fall protection system is not cost effective.
This argument falls flat for a number of reasons.  For starters, an OSHA inspector doesn’t care if your crane rail is 60 feet or 600 feet long.  If your personnel walk the rail for inspection purposes or to repair the system, they need to be tied off per regulations:

“Unprotected sides and edges.” Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.  1926.501(b)(1)

There are companies willing to take their chances with OSHA inspectors, possible citations, and fines, but the risk simply isn’t worth the reward.  And if you have been cited for this type of violation in the past, your failure to address the situation can land you a willful violation, which in turn will lead to much steeper fines.

In addition to the OSHA considerations, we all have an obligation to create a safe working environment for employees and the fall arrest system for your crane rail may not be as cost prohibitive as one might think.  DFP utilizes a number of fabrication and installation techniques that allow us to span extremely long spans of crane rail in a cost effective manner.  And yes, these engineered systems do come with a price tag, but as employers and company owners, it is impossible to place a price tag on a human life.

Because our crane rail is only inspected once a year, fall protection is not cost effective.
All of the comments above on the cost effectiveness associated with long crane rail systems apply here as well.  OSHA 1926.501(b)(1) comes into play whether your staff inspects the system once a day, once a month, or once a year.  The fines associated with an OSHA violation (or a wrongful death lawsuit) are a risk not worth taking.

The greatest hazards are present when maintenance staff is accessing the crane rail.
It is true that most crane rails are narrow and located near ceiling height, making their inspection and maintenance dangerous work.  With this said, if you already have fall protection in place for these functions, are your workers safe during access and egress?  In many instances, we see workers climbing large, permanently installed ladder systems to access the crane rail without fall protection.  Ladders and ladder systems can present fall significant hazards to your employees.  The use of ladder lifelines and climb assist products can significantly reduce the likelihood of an injury during access or egress.

We use an outside maintenance company to service our cranes, so we don’t need to provide fall protection.  If their employees fall, our company is not liable.
In this case, OSHA standards do not differentiate between employees and outside contractors, so again, OSHA 1926.501(b)(1) is in play.  And contrary to what you might think, your company may be held liable in the event of a fall resulting in catastrophic injury or death.  The takeaway here is simple—you have an obligation to protect workers, contractors, and outside vendors while they work on your crane rails.

As long as we can rig up two anchors and a rope or wire cable spanning the distance of the crane rail, we have solved the problem.
Crane rail installations require engineered fall protection solutions to ensure the safety of your employees and contractors and the OSHA compliance of your installation.  Two anchors and some wire rope may look safe to the untrained eye because the system does create a means to tie off, but this doesn’t mean your homemade solution is safe or OSHA compliant.    By way of example, here are the relevant OSHA considerations for crane rail fall arrest systems:

Horizontal Lifelines

Horizontal lifelines shall be designed, installed, and used, under the supervision of a qualified person, as part of a complete personal fall arrest system, which maintains a safety factor of at least two.

Personal Fall Arrest Systems

Personal fall arrest systems, when stopping a fall, shall:
limit maximum arresting force on an employee to 1,800 pounds (8 kN) when used with a body harness;

be rigged such that an employee can neither free fall more than 6 feet (1.8 m), nor contact any lower level;

bring an employee to a complete stop and limit maximum deceleration distance an employee travels to 3.5 feet (1.07 m); and,

have sufficient strength to withstand twice the potential impact energy of an employee free falling a distance of 6 feet (1.8 m), or the free fall distance permitted by the system, whichever is less.

As one can see when looking at this language, the OSHA guidelines are extremely specific and upon inspection, your company will be asked to provide the engineering documentation that verifies the safety of your system.  If your crane rail fall protection system hasn’t been designed with these standards in mind, it isn’t OSHA compliant.  Worse yet, the homemade solution may not arrest a workers fall in the event of an accidental slip.

If you have questions about the safety of your crane rail fall arrest system, or need to discuss installation of a new system, we are here to help.  Our engineered fall protection specialists welcome to discuss your specific needs so you can comply with all relevant OSHA standards and ensure the safety of your employees.  To learn more about our comprehensive approach to fall protection, visit us online at, download our white paper on Choosing the Right Fall Protection Company, or send us a note to discuss your safety requirements.