Safety Netting: Critical Uses During Construction and Demolition

Safety netting, also called debris netting, plays a critical safety role during building construction and demolition projects. These systems prevent injury by reducing potential hazards to those on the ground while also protecting workers from falling. However, every project is different, so what system is right for you?

What is Safety Netting?

Safety netting consists of a mesh net designed to catch falling objects, such as bricks, cinder blocks, dropped tools, and other falling debris. This debris, especially when falling from mid- to high-rise buildings, can cause serious injury or death to those on the ground.

It can also cause severe property damage to parked cars or other equipment. Construction workers and demolition personnel use these systems to ensure that bystanders and fellow crew members remain safe on the job.

Aside from the risk to ground-level personnel on construction sites, there’s also the concern of damage to tools. A safety net can capture equipment, protecting it from impact damage and reducing replacement costs.

Warehousing and industrial environments also use safety netting to protect workers from falling boxes, tools, and objects from conveyor belts.

Preventing Falls

When construction workers are assigned to a dangerous height task, there’s the unfortunate possibility that they may fall. This is a leading cause of construction worker fatalities. It’s also avoidable by installing certain safety systems and proper training in their use.

A safety net can save lives by catching workers who lose their balance and fall, absorbing their energy, and slowing down their descent. This is also why the distance from the safety net to the ground is so critical. If it’s too close to the ground, the net may not stop the fall in time.

However, if a perimeter safety net is not rated as a personal fall arrest system, the use of a lifeline or other fall-protection system may be necessary.

Vertical and Horizontal Netting Systems

Depending on the application, there are several types of safety netting that you can install on a job site. These include:

Vertical netting

Vertical netting is one of the simplest and most cost-effective debris containment systems to install. Since vertical netting is easy to install, you can relocate, remove, and store it as your needs change. Installed using a cable, consult local ordinances to determine the required height.

You can choose wire mesh with a finer series of openings per meter or foot squared if you need to. This provides increased protection against tools or other debris falling through.

Horizontal netting

Horizontal or perimeter netting can catch falling debris and workers. The primary purpose of perimeter netting is to ensure that everything from falling hand tools to stray bricks to concrete debris is caught, protecting workers and bystanders on the ground. This is also important when the construction site is near a busy street or parking lot.

Related Concerns

When determining the safety netting you need, and where you should place it, you should know certain OSHA requirements and related terminology. One of these is the work surface.

Your safety netting must be installed as close to the walking/working surface as possible. This is the work surface, whether horizontal or vertical, that personnel are standing or performing work-related duties. The safety net should not be installed more than 30 feet below a work surface if the intended use is to protect personnel. A competent person should oversee this to ensure compliance with OSHA regulations.

Guardrail Systems

Safety netting is just one safety option for your worksite. Guardrails can be an alternative or supplement to safety netting, and are available in several configurations, depending on the application.

If you need a guardrail that’s permanently attached, you can choose a fixed variant you can bolt, weld, or clamp to a surface. When fixed in place, the guardrail enhances safety in areas that personnel work in for protracted periods.

If you prefer the option of portability, there are also free-standing variants. Free-standing guardrails should be lightweight and comparatively simple to install, requiring no special tools. This variant enables your staff to work safely in an area as long as they need to, taking their safety equipment with them as they move on to other tasks. You may find that this type of system is more cost-effective because you can keep your equipment expenditures to a minimum.

Fall Protection Equipment

Even with safety netting, you and your personnel must still adhere to safety requirements diligently — this is no substitute. This includes fall protection equipment, which should be used alongside safety netting systems. An example of this would be a lifeline — a flexible line that you connect to a suitable anchor point. If you fall from a great height, this line arrests your vertical descent. There are also horizontal lifelines.

A horizontal lifeline is a rope or cable that attaches at two anchor points. You then attach a fall arrest system to this line.

Always wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as hard hats, face shields, and safety goggles in hazardous work areas. Staff must wear a reflective vest or clothing with reflective stripes to ensure that they remain visible at all times.

Anchors

Another important part of a fall-arrest system is an anchorage connector. This allows construction workers to attach a lanyard, deceleration device, or lifeline to a critical anchor point to prevent a potentially deadly fall. An anchor is a permanent or temporary point to which you can attach a fall-arrest system.

Alternatively, if a worker falls, an anchor slows their descent, reducing the risk of injury or death. As with guardrails, anchor points may be temporary or permanent. A permanently installed anchor point should be made from durable, heavy-duty material for areas that workers access often. A temporary anchor point allows for portability.

Mobile anchor points increase your freedom of movement and provide increased flexibility without compromising safety. This improved maneuverability ensures that your employees can perform a variety of work-related tasks, maintaining productivity. There’s no reason you can’t be both safe and efficient — these principles work hand-in-hand.

Safety Netting

Specific Circumstances

Every construction site and demolition project is unique, and the circumstances surrounding them change frequently. As a result, the precise safety or debris netting system you need may differ considerably from one site or project to another. Consult with safety distributors and netting manufacturers to find the balance of protective measures to suit your individual circumstances. They can help you formulate a plan that’s right for your project.

These companies can also help you adjust your safety plan to account for elevation and project changes, so you can adapt. As your construction strategy changes or the location shifts, you should always know that your personnel will be safe, regardless of the work level.

For the maximum protection possible, both for your crew and those on the ground, consider combining a personal fall protection or arrest system, including anchor points and lifelines, with a safety netting system. This can increase the chances of your workers and any loose debris being caught promptly.

One of the best practices for the installation of safety netting is to wrap the entire building.

Final Thoughts

Safety netting plays a vital role in protecting workers and bystanders on the ground from falling debris and personnel from falling when performing work duties at high building sites. Several factors determine the type of netting that’s appropriate for your construction or demolition project.

At Shelving + Rack Systems, Inc., we take industrial safety seriously. Call (800) 589-7225, and we’ll help you decide what netting system suits your project best.