Crucial systems for height safety

Published: 07th Nov 2012

Whether you use a personal fall arrest system every day or only once in your lifetime, one thing is for certain: the system won’t do any good unless it is used properly.

While your company provides fall arrest equipment and training on its use, and mandates that you use this equipment, you ultimately are responsible for using it correctly in all required situations. You should want to use fall arrest systems because you want to survive a fall should one occur. It’s that simple.

The importance of fall arrest systems

Falling from any height can cause injury to some extent, and some falls can even lead to death. As per studies conducted, the leading cause of deaths on a construction site is falls.

When working while elevated, you must use the proper precautions and safety equipment to keep safe. This is not just for construction workers - everyone who climbs a rooftop or a high surface to perform any task requires safety equipment for protection from hazardous happenings. Fall arrest systems, fall guards and fall protection equipment are used to protect people working at elevated levels from which they could fall.

What is a fall arrest system?

Fall arrest systems are full body guards that protect those working in multi-story construction sites. People who work as painters, window cleaners, carpenters, roofing professionals or as bridge construction employees must also secure themselves with fall arrest systems to avoid accidents and injuries. Fall arrest systems include many types of equipment such as safety nets, harnesses and other similar safety devices.

You can never know the intensity of physical damage that a human could suffer due to a fall. Even a fall from a relatively low height can cause death in many cases, so you can never be too cautious. Some of the prominent fall arrest equipment used to prevent fatal falls is anchorage, safety body wear, connectors and penetration awareness devices. For the fall arrest systems to work properly, one must make sure that they are well maintained, set up, and used correctly.

Although there are many dealers and suppliers who offer fall arrest systems, make sure that you buy from a genuine manufacturer or dealer, because the choice of this equipment is a matter of one’s life or death.

Snug harnesses form an important part of fall arrest systems. They are specially designed safety equipment that will keep workers safe from falling or slipping from a rooftop or other lofty height. These harnesses must be fixed to workers' outfits in order to hold them tight and prevent harm and injury.

Personal fall arrest system

A personal fall arrest system is comprised of three key components - anchorage connector, body wear and connecting device. While a lot of focus has been given to anchorage connectors and body wear (full body harnesses) when discussing fall protection, the connecting device - a shock-absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lifeline - between these two components actually bears the greatest fall forces during a fall.

Historically, harnesses are replaced on the jobsite more often than connecting devices. The connecting device is by far the most critical component in surviving a fall safely and should be carefully inspected and replaced prior to use at the slightest indication of wear or damage.

While each component of a personal fall arrest system is vital to worker safety, the connecting device - selection, materials, construction and inspection/maintenance needs - is the critical link in assembling a safe fall protection system. Careful consideration and attention must be given before, during and after a connecting device has been selected.

For example, once an anchorage, such as an I-beam, is located, its strength or its ability to arrest a fall can be determined easily. Likewise, the full body harness offers an inherently high safety factor, since fall forces are distributed throughout the body over many webbing components, including chest, shoulder, waist and legs. No single component is subjected to the total fall force; however, a shock-absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lifeline is comprised of only one strength member, e.g. webbing, rope, steel cable. Substandard design, poor quality workmanship, excessive exposure to UV light or chemicals, physical damage, improper storage or inadequate inspection can lead to lanyard/lifeline failure.

What’s needed?

Proper training, maintenance and inspection of all components of the personal fall arrest system are crucial in creating a safe work environment. Even the highest quality products require regular inspection, especially when the safety and wellbeing of the user are at stake. Remember: adopt a smart policy - when in doubt, throw it out.

Shock-Absorbing Lanyards (SAL)

The SAL is a flexible line connecting device positioned between a full body harness and a point of anchorage. There are two basic categories of lanyards: non-shock-absorbing and shock-absorbing. Non-shock-absorbing lanyards are used for restraint only, while shock-absorbing lanyards (tubular and pack style) are designed to arrest a free fall while keeping the fall arrest forces below standard requirements.

Tubular and pack style shock-absorbing lanyards extend deceleration distance during a fall, significantly reducing fall arresting forces by 65 to 80 percent below the threshold of injury as specified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and recommended by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

The six foot, tubular SAL is the most popular design and includes a special shock-absorbing inner core material, surrounded by a heavy duty tubular outer jacket that doubles as a back up web lanyard. In accordance with OSHA regulations, all lanyards manufactured today are required to have self-closing, locking snap hooks to reduce the possibility of unintentional disengagement, or ‘roll-out’.

Shock-absorbing ‘packs’ are also commonly available which can be attached, or in some cases built in to non-shock-absorbing lanyards to give them shock-absorbing capability. Should a fall occur, an inner core smoothly deploys to slow the fall. Better models feature a back up safety strap inside the pack for greater security.

Self-Retracting Lifelines (SRL)

Self-Retracting Lifelines are available in an array of styles from palm-sized personal fall limiters to heavy duty, permanently installed units. They also come in a variety of working lengths ranging from nine feet to more than 175 feet. Lifelines are available in webbing, galvanized steel cable or stainless steel wire rope.

All designed with a quick activating braking system to quickly arrest a free fall, SRLs are an effective alternative to shock-absorbing lanyards when fall clearance is a concern. SRLs typically incorporate an integral load indicator that visually identifies when the unit has been involved in a fall and must be discarded or returned to the manufacturer for repair.

Know and understand the regulations

OSHA 29 CFR subpart M states:

“When stopping a fall, a personal fall arrest system must:

• Limit maximum fall arresting force on an employee to 1,800 lbs when used with a full body harness; (ANSI Z335.1 requires fall arrest forces stay below 900 lbs during a six foot fall)

• Limit free fall distance to less than six feet, and be rigged in such a way as to prevent contact with a lower level

• Bring the employee to a complete stop while limiting maximum deceleration distance

• Have sufficient strength to withstand twice the potential energy of a worker free falling from a distance of six feet, or the free fall distance permitted by the system, whichever is less”

While these regulations apply primarily to construction activities, many other industries follow these guidelines for greater jobsite safety.

Selecting the correct fall arrest equipment

Selecting the right fall arrest equipment is of vital importance when working from an elevated position in order to prevent serious injury or even death.

According to safety officers, in most instances where a fall does occur, injury results not only from the lack of or improper use of fall protection equipment, but also from using the incorrect equipment.

Selection considerations

To select the appropriate SAL or SRL for a specific application, consider the following factors:

• Your company’s fall protection plan, which may have specific requirements in addition to those of OSHA

• The type of work being performed and the specific conditions of the work environment, including the presence of moisture, dirt, oil, grease, acids and electrical hazards, as well as the ambient temperature. For example, steel cable lanyards are particularly strong, heat-resistant and durable; however, they are not suitable for use around high voltage sources because they readily conduct electricity

• Potential fall distance. This distance is greater than most people think, since the length of the lanyard plus the length that the shock-absorber will elongate during deceleration, both must be considered

• The compatibility of system components. A personal fall arrest system should be designed and tested as a complete system. Components produced by different manufacturers may not be interchangeable

• Selection criteria also should include a scrutiny of product quality. For example, OSHA regulations call for limiting fall forces on an individual wearing a full body harness to 1,800 lbs. Likewise, the ANSI Z359.1 standard for equipment manufacturers suggests that non-shock-absorbing lanyards limit fall forces to 1,800 lbs - an infeasible option with commercially available lanyard materials - and 900 lbs for shock-absorbing lanyards. Most reputable lanyard manufacturers design to the 900-lbs standard, and state this on the label of the lanyard. While OSHA regulations are the law and are enforced by a federal agency, ANSI standards are self-enforced by individual manufacturers - there is no enforcement body, and no inspectors. Hence, the buyer cannot take stated performance per ANSI guidelines for granted?

OSHA’s non-mandatory guidelines for personal fall arrest systems state:

“Before purchasing or putting into use a personal fall arrest system, an employer should obtain from the supplier information about the system based on its performance during testing so that the employer will know if the system meets this standard. Testing should be done using recognized test methods.”

It is imperative to underscore the importance of buying from well known, reputable manufacturers that adhere to ANSI standards, and can readily supply documentation of test performance. Often, third party certification is available from the manufacturer to assure compliance. Certification to ISO-quality is another measure of a reliable supplier.

While individually a harness, a connection, and an anchor/anchorage point will not provide protection from a fall, when used properly and in conjunction with each other, they form a personal fall arrest system that becomes vitally important for safety on the job site.

Selecting the correct harness

When selecting the right harness, wearers must choose a harness that is designed for a specific application. With so many varieties of harnesses on the market, ranging from construction, ladder work, tower work and roof work, it is important to pick the right equipment for the job.

Each harness is engineered with a series of unique components, including different types of webbing, side, rear and frontal D-rings and lanyard rings, and provides a safety solution that closely matches the work environment.

It is also important to ensure that the harness fits well, and that the shoulder, waist and leg straps are adjusted. Even though workers are wearing fall protection equipment on the job, by wearing the wrong type of harness they are risking serious injury or even death in the event of an accident.

Selecting the correct connection

The connection component of a fall arrest system acts to reduce the force of a sustained fall, when used in conjunction with a full body harness and suitable anchorage. Depending on the work application, workers should always check the recommended connection component.

There are a number of connector choices available to workers including lanyards and fall arrestors, and when choosing the correct connection, it is important to consider the fall clearance distance, as well as the work application.

Workers who work around sharp edges are recommended to use lanyards or fall arrestors which are specifically designed to offer exceptional strength, durability and flexibility. Workers seeking maximum protection when welding or grinding at heights should also consider lanyards which are fire retardant.

Selecting the correct anchorage point

When attached to a suitable anchorage point, the anchorage connector completes the worker’s fall arrest system. The best harness with the best lanyard cannot arrest a fall if an unsuitable anchorage is selected. An anchorage must support 15kN for a single tie-off for one individual, and in all cases the anchorage point selected must allow for minimum free fall clearances as required by ASNZS 1891.4, which, when using a lanyard is 5.7m and when using a fall arrestor is 3.5m.

An anchorage should also be positioned directly overhead whenever possible to avoid the pendulum effect, which can cause a worker to swing as they fall, creating the potential for injury. Most importantly, an anchorage should be selected based on how a rescue would be performed.?

When to wear fall protection

• Always wear fall protection when there is a danger or potential of falling

• Whenever a person is at risk of falling, no matter how high off the ground, a fall arrest system has to be worn and securely anchored

• The anchorage point has to be adequate for the intended load

• When working on heavy equipment, and outside of the protective handrails, you must always wear a fall arrest system and be securely anchored Why wear a fall arrest system?

• Slips and falls of mining personnel are a major cause of accidents in the mining industry

• It only takes a minute to attach you to a suitable anchor point, and only a few seconds to slip and fall, which could result in a lifelong disabling injury

• A simple safety belt or a fall arrest system can save your life

Rescue plan

When fall arrest systems are in use, a competent person should develop an effective rescue plan specific to the work location and job being performed before work starts. Although not required to be in writing according to applicable Cal/OSHA regulations, fall protection plans should be documented. You should have a written plan, prepared in advance, which facilitates the training of rescue personnel by increasing their familiarity with specific areas difficult to access.

Alternatively, the competent person may ensure personnel are trained on and capable of self-rescue to a safe location.

Proper use and testing

Training employees in the proper use of a fall arrest system is required by OSHA. When it comes to the proper use and inspection of lanyards and self-retracting lifelines, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The following guidelines may provide clarification:

• The maximum working load of shock-absorbing lanyards and self-retracting lifelines is 310 lbs, unless otherwise stated

• All SALs and SRLs should be connected to the back D-ring of a full body harness. The only exception is a personal fall limiter unit that is also designed to be attached to the back D-ring of a harness

• The opposite end of a SAL or SRL should be connected to the anchorage or anchorage connector. Make sure all equipment is compatible by using products produced by the same manufacturer

• Locking snap hooks with gate openings larger than one inch should not be connected to the back D-ring of a harness

• Make certain the SAL or SRL has not been deployed/activated, or the shock absorbing lanyard does not exceed the length specified by the manufacturer before deployment

• Do not use SALs with non-locking snap hooks

• Always visually check that locking snap hooks and carabineers freely engage on harness back D-rings and anchor points, and that keepers are completely closed and locked

• Be certain that locking snap hooks are positioned so that keepers are never load-bearing from the front or side, unless the snap hooks are engineered to withstand gate load capacity from any angle, such as with specially designed tie-back lanyards

• Never disable or restrict snap hook locking keepers

• Do not attach multiple SALs together; never tie knots in lanyards

• Never use a SAL or SRL for purposes other than those for which they are designed

Care and maintenance

Simple care and adhering to the manufacturer’s instructions will prolong the durable life of shock-absorbing lanyards and self-retracting lifelines and ensure reliable performance. Here are some other important tips:

• For all webbing components, wipe off surface dirt with a sponge dampened with plain water and squeezed dry. Dip the sponge in a mild solution of water and commercial soap or detergent. Work up a thick lather? with a vigorous back-and-forth motion, then wipe with a clean cloth. Allow the webbing to dry away from excessive heat or sun

• Store equipment after use in a clean, dry area, free from excessive heat, steam, fumes and corrosive agents. Avoid long exposures to sunlight


It may surprise you to know that building an enduring culture of safety can also be cost effective in that it will minimise costly injuries and maintain a safer, more productive and engaged workforce.

It is not just a question of creating a set of rules but, rather, about establishing a new philosophy for preventing injury in the workplace. While management may instigate it, creating an ethos where working safely becomes the right and responsibility of each and every employee is crucial.

Establishing a culture where safety is everyone's priority means employers and employees alike must preserve, enhance and communicate their safety concerns; strive to adapt and modify their behaviour and actively learn from mistakes made in the past.

Published: 07th Nov 2012 in Health and Safety Middle East