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Update Your Fall Protection Program Now: Apply New ANSI Z359 Equipment Standards
With recent and forthcoming changes to the ANSI Z359 fall protection code, the landscape of the fall protection industry is changing. Although OSHA still sets and enforces the law regarding fall protection, the outdated nature of the existing regulations forces organizations to look to ANSI for guidance on current best practices and equipment.
As in any other industry, manufacturers of fall protection equipment are continuously innovating to meet the needs of their customer base. While even ANSI can't keep pace with this rate of change, the Z359 family of standards outlines the most current best practices for fall protection. The changes that have been made to the ANSI standards in the past five years can—and, in my opinion, should—have a significant impact on an organization's fall protection program.
It is, however, important to note that the updates to the ANSI Z359 standards make equipment and practices safer. This is not to say equipment that meets older standards is inherently unsafe. Equipment that meets newer standards is safer because it reflects design and application changes based on updated testing and feedback on usage. This is why training is so important for any equipment: Your workers need to know the use and limitations of equipment. And you need to stress to your workers that engineering controls always should be considered before equipment because equipment-based systems have so many opportunities to fail.
One of the most impactful changes to the ANSI Fall Protection Code is the ANSI Z359.2 standard, which outlines how to develop and maintain a comprehensive managed fall protection program. From a holistic standpoint, this standard can have the greatest impact on the overall success of a fall protection program because it addresses far-reaching items, such as policy development, hazard identification, procedures, and training. These may seem like standard items for a program, but it is where we have seen many organizations struggle, especially in the hazard identification area.
Still, selecting and implementing equipment for fall protection solutions is the most visible aspect of a fall protection program. It’s also the most costly. So, time, money, safety, productivity, and even employee morale are on the line when implementing equipment-based solutions. For this reason, understanding the new ANSI standards related to equipment components is critical for the success of a fall protection program.
The following scenarios showcase a sampling of the challenges that can exist in transitioning to the new ANSI equipment component standards.
1. Connectors – Gate Strength
Scenario: You recognize that your organization is still using connectors that meet the ANSI Z359.1-1992 (R1999) standard.
Solution: Replace connectors as soon as feasible—if you haven't started already. Older connectors were designed with a gate strength of 220 pounds of front load and 350 pounds of side load. Although these connectors are technically safe, the newer connectors that meet the ANSI Z359.1-2007 or Z359.12-2009 standards have increased gate strength. For both front and side loads, the newer connectors require gate strength of 3,600 pounds. This significantly minimizes the chances of a failure due to an incompatible connection.
Scenario: You recognize that your organization is still using lanyards that meet the ANSI Z359.1-1992 (R1999) standard or the ANSI Z359.1-2007 standard.
Solution: Use a lanyard designed to meet ANSI Z359.13-2009 or limit use of pre-2009 lanyards to employees who weigh 130 to 242 pounds. Although no equipment manufacturers have recalled older lanyard models, an issue with weight was discovered in testing that contributed to a change in the test mass for the ANSI Z359.13 standard. To properly test lanyards and accurately replicate a 310-pound worker, the test mass for energy-absorbing lanyards was increased to 282 pounds.
3. Leading Edge Applications
Scenario: You want to use a self-retracting lanyard (SRL) or vertical lifeline (VLL) in a leading edge application.
Solution: Some SRLs do not work in the horizontal arrangement required for leading edge work. Also, if used in this manner, it is possible for the lanyard to be cut if loaded over a sharp edge. For SRLs, purchase equipment that is specifically designed for a leading edge application (SRL-LE) and meets the ANSI Z359.14-2012 standard.
When using VLLs in a horizontal arrangement, the energy absorber is sometimes located close to the anchorage, instead of close to body where it needs to be. You should provide edge padding and protection to the lifeline to avoid severing it and keep the energy absorber close to the body.
4. Ballast-Style Anchorage
Scenario: Someone in your organization has decided that a "ballast" style anchorage is the best solution to protect workers performing roof maintenance.
Solution: The functionality of ballast-style anchorages is dependent on the surface and other conditions. In many cases, these anchorages can move significantly and unpredictably under load. Due to the variables these systems present, the ANSI standards have not yet addressed this type of product. You should critically evaluate this option compared to other more established alternatives. If using these anchorages, make sure they are tested in the exact circumstances where they will be used and involve a qualified person who is also a professional engineer. Remember, not all qualified persons are professional engineers, and not all professional engineers are qualified persons.
5. Proprietary Horizontal Lifeline Systems
Scenario: Someone in your organization has decided that a proprietary horizontal lifeline system is the best solution for an identified fall hazard. These proprietary systems are sometimes referred to as a turnkey installation or are installed by a "certified" installer.
Solution: While an ANSI standard on this topic has not been formally published, it will soon become available to provide guidance for this type of proprietary system. The challenge with a proprietary system is that the price quoted by "turnkey" installers can vary greatly, making it difficult for employers to ensure that they are getting what they pay for. It is critical to produce a preliminary design, or bridging documents, that will give employers a method to qualify proposed systems.
Scenario: A proprietary horizontal lifeline is being used, but some workers weigh more than 250 pounds.
Solution: Have a third party verify the maximum user weight for the specific system. Some "proprietary" horizontal lifeline systems are intended only for a 220-pound user weight because they are based on European standards. This may require you to de-rate the horizontal lifeline. Another option is to go through a detailed analysis of the system and use new lanyards that meet the ANSI Z359.13-2009 standard.
6. System Certification
Scenario: You can’t find any documentation for an existing horizontal lifeline system, and workers need to use it for an upcoming maintenance project.
Solution: Follow guidelines for system certification found in the ANSI Z359.6 standard. No matter how old a fall protection system is, its sole purpose is to save a falling worker. But fall protection systems can function only if they are installed and used properly, and the process of certification provides assurances that key aspects of the system are appropriate and functional.
- Is the system appropriate for identified hazards? Is an engineering control option feasible instead?
- Are there adequate anchorages and structural support?
- Are appropriate use and rescue procedures in place?
- Have users received appropriate training for the equipment and system?
Regardless of your specific scenario or the status of your fall protection program, the ANSI Z359 Fall Protection Code can provide useful guidance in protecting workers at heights. The code provides a wide array of information, ranging from program development and management to system design to equipment use and limitations. If it's a fall protection best practice you need, the ANSI Z359 Fall Protection Code is the place to find it.
The ANSI Z359 Fall Protection Code
- Z359.0: Definitions and nomenclature
- Z359.1: Safety requirements for personal fall arrest systems
- Z359.2: Minimum requirements for a comprehensive managed fall protection program
- Z359.3: Safety requirements for positioning and travel restraint systems
- Z359.4: Safety requirements for assisted-rescue and self-rescue systems
- Z359.6: Specifications and design requirements for active fall-protection systems
- Z359.12: Connecting components for personal fall arrest systems
- Z359.13: Personal energy absorbers and energy-absorbing lanyards
Recent Z359 Standards
- Z359.7-2011: Requirements for third-party and self-certification for personal fall arrest systems
- Z359.14-2012: Safety requirements for self-retracting devices
Future Z359 Standards
- ANSI Z359.8-20XX: Rope access systems
- ANSI Z359.9-20XX: Descending devices
- ANSI Z359.11-20XX: Safety requirements for full body harness
- ANSI Z359.15-20XX: Safety requirements for vertical lifelines and fall arrestors
- ANSI Z359.16-20XX: Safety requirements for ladder climbing systems
- ANSI Z359.17-20XX: Safety requirements for horizontal lifelines
- ANSI Z359.18-20XX: Safety requirements for anchorage connectors
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.