More and more grain handlers have been installing equipment to protect employees who are working 14 feet up atop covered hopper cars from falls, though the approach varies from company to company. Fall protection units often are custom-designed to fit the unique aspects of the job site and the work performed.

One example is Maumee, Ohio based The Andersons Inc., which has installed fall protection equipment at several of its elevators in a four-state region. Perhaps the most unusual installation was completed over the winter of 2000-01 at the company's 5.5-million-bushel rail-loading terminal at Delphi, Indiana, which serves as both an indoor and outdoor system.

The Delphi facility loads 50-, 75-, 85-, and 100-car trains on the Norfolk Southern at a rate of 55,000 bph, says Operations Manager Bob Marlow.

The spout for the facility's bulk weigh loadout system is located in a metal rail shed, which does a good job of holding down dust emissions. However, the speed of loading railcars, which are pulled by locomotives through the shed in five-car strings, requires a six-worker crew, including one on top of the rail-cars. This worker monitors the flow of grain into the railcars and then closes the hatches and seals them.

"The first and most obvious reason for installing fall protection equipment is to protect our employees," Marlow says.

The Andersons looked at several systems on the market before settling on a patented, truss-supported I-beam-and-trolley type unit designed, manufactured, and installed by Fall Protection Systems Inc.

The system stretches 300 feet in length, nearly long enough to cover an entire five-car string, with portions both inside and outside of the loadout shed. The section inside the shed is mounted directly on the shed structure, while the outdoor sections are supported by 30-foot-tall, heavy-duty steel poles in concrete bases. The system is rated to handle up to four workers at once.

With the I-beam suspended overhead, workers simply don a full body harness and attach to the self-retracting lifeline, which is connected to a trolley that can roll the full length of the I-beam without interruption, since the beam is virtually seamless.

"We preferred an I-beam system to a cable-type system for several reasons," Marlow explains. "We felt that with the conditions we have during the winter, there was a danger of icing on a cable, which could interfere with operations.The primary thing, though, was that if we did have a fall, we would have to take the entire cable-type system out of service until it could be repaired and tested. With an I-beam and trolley, we would have to take the individual harness and lanyard out of service but not the entire system."

Also, with rigid beam systems, the beam does not stretch and, unlike a safety cable, has no elastic memory. Therefore, falls normally are limited to less than two feet, and when a fall is arrested, secondary falls due to bouncing are eliminated.

In practice, The Andersons only allow two workers on top of railcars at a time under most circumstances.

Catwalk Modification
The Andersons has a reputation of designing new technology or modifying existing technology to suit its needs.

In this case, The Andersons' in-house engineering department in Maumee designed a 300-foot-long catwalk to run the length of the fall protection unit, parallel to the loadout siding. Andersons employees installed the catwalk, which is mounted adjacent to the Fall Protection Systems unit.

"The catwalk allows our crew to close and seal a hatch, step off the car, wait for the next one to roll past, and step back onto the car safely, all while the string of cars is in motion," Marlow explains.

This system required some compromises in its design, since covered hopper cars vary somewhat in height - in some cases the worker must step up onto the catwalk from the railcar; in others, the worker must step down. However, having the Fall Protection Systems unit in place allows the worker to do this safely.

This case study was pulled from an article in the July/August 2001 Issue of Grain Journal by Ed Zdrojewski.