The Subaru Telescope is an 8.2-meter optical-infrared telescope operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan that sits atop the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii at an elevation of 14,000 feet. Operations and maintenance personnel are exposed to fall hazards of up to 300 feet, both off the top of the telescope and into the dome itself, during troubleshooting and maintenance tasks. The structure was built with functionality as the paramount consideration. With fall protection as an afterthought, staff had to be creative in developing their fall protection program. Gravitec was called in to educate personnel on rescue equipment and procedures.
Considering the delicate nature of working in close quarters with millions of dollars of equipment and the sub-optimal fall protection systems and equipment workers were using, rescue education couldn’t be addressed until the basics were completely covered and understood.
Focus on the importance of procedure was crucial to the learning process, due to the high-pressure work environment. There were a number of environmental factors that had to be taken into consideration by the instructor, such as working in pitch black areas of the observatory, completing tasks in the cooled building (maintained at 30 degrees) and the fluctuating outdoor conditions.
The instructor broke down basic principles and focused on foundational knowledge, stressing the need for prevention rather than simply rescue training. Suggestions were posed on alternative fall protection systems and equipment that would better suit the needs of the client and optimize worker safety. The instructor made recommendations for procedural changes that took into account environmental considerations as well as feasibility for the variety of different locations fall protection is utilized in the observatory.
Though called in for rescue training, Gravitec went above and beyond to ensure that the client was optimizing worker safety at heights, by filling in gaps in user knowledge as well as consulting on proper fall protection systems and equipment. The resident staff member in charge of safety was inspired to take a more managed approach to their fall protection program and took the instructor’s recommendations into serious consideration. In fact, the maintenance and operations personnel quickly supplied themselves with new gear, much better suited to their needs and to maintaining their safety.