The Warehouse Lifeguards
In 2016, fall protection was the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) most cited safety violation. So when a safety-conscious Recreational Vehicle Service Center in Texas needed to protect its mechanics and service technicians as they worked on top of RVs, it made sense to contact WW Cannon’s Doug Hutchins. Hutchins is known throughout the industry as the “Warehouse Lifeguard” and has a reputation for outfitting companies with the best fall protection solution for their application.
“With every fall protection application, there is a hierarchy of protection questions that I go through,” says Hutchins. “The first thing I look at is, ‘Is there any way that they can avoid working on the roof?’ And of course, in this situation the answer was no. So the second question I ask is, ‘Is there any way to install a handrail on the roof?’ Because vehicles are constantly moving in and out of the service center, the answer to this question was also no. Then I ask, ‘Is there any room on the floor for us to build a system?’ Here too the answer was no. So we had to look to the ceiling.”
Once it was determined that the fall protection system would have to be installed on the ceiling of the service center, Hutchins educated the customer on the different fall protection projects available.
“There were really two types of system they could have used,” says Hutchins. “The first was a wire cable system and the second was a rigid rail system. And the customer needed to be educated on the differences. And once those were understood, it was a very easy decision to go with the rigid rail solution.”
The rigid rail solution provided numerous advantages over the wire cable system.
“The rigid rail system is a permanent system,” Hutchins says. “It’s welded and bolted to the ceiling and it’s not coming down. And that differs from a wire cable system in that if somebody were to fall, much of the wire cable system would have to be replaced. Just from a cost standpoint, the rigid rail may cost a little bit more, but it is a permanent system. There’s no part of it that has to be replaced except for what is connected to the mechanic who is on top of the RV.”
He continues, “Another advantage is that the rigid rail system is safer. When somebody falls from a rigid rail system, they fall four to six inches before they’re caught. With a wire cable system, they could fall three feet or more before they get caught. And when somebody falls that far, they can get injured when their body is yanked by the system catching them.”
Finally, “The rigid rail allows for multiple people to be working simultaneously. They can move by each other without having to disconnect and reconnect their lanyard, which would be impossible with a wire rope system. We’ve done systems that have 20 people on those rails. And with a rigid rail system, they can start out from the floor connected to the system so that they are secured when climbing up the ladder. And it’s completely hands free, which allows the mechanics to focus all of their attention on the job at hand.”
Armed with all of that information, the customer opted to go with the rigid rail system. But there were some obstacles that needed to be overcome by WW Cannon and Gorbel.
“We needed to make sure that the building could hold the system,” Hutchins says. “A lot of buildings, especially for service centers, they’re not the most durable buildings. They’re not made for anything to be installed in the ceiling. We had to have a structural engineer come out and he had to just run his calculations and figure out how we could reinforce the ceiling and put the system in. And he figured that out. We added welds to the beams and columns to reinforce them.”
Another obstacle that needed to be overcome was that the building was very low-ceilinged. The system had to be engineered so that the mechanics could work on top of the RVs without hitting their head on the rail above.
“We took the header beam and welded it as high up on the webbing of the building as possible, and installed the track underneath. If the building was higher up, we could have gone higher, but we went as high as the ceiling would allow, which got us enough clearance.”
The system itself took about two weeks to install completely.
“WW Cannon was hired because of our complete turn-key services,” says Hutchins. “Not only did we design, layout, build and install the system, but we also went the extra mile to find the right solution to fit the unique needs of the customer.”
Once installation was complete, the WW Cannon team provided the customer with comprehensive safety training for their staff, including proper protocol during a fall.
“We helped the customer develop a rescue plan,” says Hutchins. “This is required by law. If somebody were to fall, they’d be safely caught by the lanyard, but there has to be a procedure in place to get them down as quickly as possible, so they aren’t dangling with the potential of their circulation being cut off.”
With the system in place and the staff properly trained, the client is thrilled with the end result. Hutchins and WW Cannon had once again lived up to their reputation as the “Warehouse Lifeguards” by providing the best-practice fall protection solution.