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Safety nets are one option that can be used as part of a fall protection plan. Workplaces that have the risk of falling should have a fall protection plan that outlines the policy and procedures involved in assembling, maintaining, inspecting, using, and dismantling equipment such as ladders, scaffolds, or platforms used for working at heights as well as any fall protection equipment.
Safety nets are classified as a passive fall protection system which can be installed as either a barrier to prevent a fall, or beneath the work to catch a falling worker. Safety nets are designed to decrease the fall distance, to absorb the energy of a fall, and to reduce the likelihood or seriousness of an injury.
However, safety nets do not stop the worker from falling. Installing a fixed barrier such as guardrails, opening covers, or walls are always the preferred method to prevent a worker from falling. Safety nets are most often used when it is impossible or impractical to install fixed barriers or to use an anchored and lifeline system (fall arrest system).
Occupational health and safety laws generally require action when a worker has the potential to fall about 3 metres (10 feet). Check with your jurisdiction as exact requirements do vary. Note that most jurisdictions require the use of specific fall protection measures before, or in addition to, personal protective equpment (PPE).
When deciding on the use of a safety net, check your local legislation for requirements such as:
Create and follow a fall protection plan that outlines the various ways fall hazards will be controlled or eliminated at each worksite. The nature of the work and the worksite itself will determine whether safety nets can be used as a fall protection method for that specifc situation. For example, a fall protection plan should specify all procedures for:
When selecting a safety net, consider:
Only use safety nets to catch falling workers when the drop area is clear. If a falling worker could come into contact with surrounding structures or objects (including sharp edges), it is a good practice to evaluate other fall protection methods that will minimize the potential for injury.
When using a safety net system:
It is good practice to:
Safety nets often catch falling debris or equipment, which impacts their ability to safely arrest a fall. If left in the net while work is ongoing, debris can damage a safety net system or become a hazard to the worker if they fall. Debris may:
Stop all work above and below the safety net to remove the fallen debris. Accumlation of snow or ice should also be removed before work can begin or continue.
When maintaining a safety net system, follow all the manufacturer's specifications. Safety nets should be checked daily, or as recommended by the manufacturer or as required by law.
Never use a safety net system with damaged components. Make sure a damaged safety net is immediately taken out of service and repaired before work continues. Safety nets can be damaged during use or storage by:
Visual inspections include checking for:
Regular testing of the safety net system includes:
Have the required person (e.g., a competent person or professional engineer) check the safety net after any impact from heavy objects or people.
Keep records of all inspections and tests performed. Also record all repairs or replacemetns, showing the date of any repairs or replacements and who did the work.