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Buying Fall Protection Equipment in 2017
According to various reports, the global fall protection equipment market will reach $3.5 billion by 2020. Considering this statistic and the ongoing requirement to repurchase soft goods, it’s likely that your organization will be buying fall protection equipment in the coming year.
When it's time to buy new equipment, the recently released ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2016 standard—now officially named the Fall Protection Code—is the most current and robust resource for information to ensure you are getting the right equipment to meet today's standards. The Z359.1 standard takes effect on Aug. 14, 2017, and this breakthrough revision will most directly impact equipment manufacturers. But it's critical for all buyers of fall protection equipment to learn about the new standards now to understand and prepare for the changes that come with the updated requirements. When you are properly educated, you can be a better consumer for your organization.
As stated in the standard document, the following is the purpose of the new Z359.1 standard:
This standard specifies minimum requirements for the processes, systems, sub-systems and components used in a managed fall protection program that meets all of the requirements of the ANSI/ASSE Z359 Fall Protection Code.
How Did We Get Here?
First, it's important to note that a voluntary consensus standard like ANSI is not the law, but it complements OSHA and other governmental regulations. Even with a new OSHA rule on walking-working surfaces and fall protection systems becoming effective this month, the general nature of OSHA regulations does not provide specific guidance about the fall protection equipment being used in the market today.
The first edition of Z359.1, which was published in 1992, was the first American National Standard for personal fall arrest systems in non-construction occupations. It established requirements for performance, design, marking, qualification, instruction, training, inspection, use, maintenance, and removal from service of full body harnesses, connectors, lanyards, energy absorbers, anchorage connectors, fall arresters, vertical lifelines, and self-retracting lanyards. This standard was reaffirmed in 1999 and revised in 2007.
For nearly a decade since, the ANSI Z359 committee has been working on new standards to address specific equipment components, such as harnesses, connectors, lanyards, self-retracting devices, and anchorage connectors. With the publication of these new component standards between 2009 and 2016, the requirements of the original Z359.1 standard have been superseded. Still, many organizations simply refer to the Z359.1 standard as a catch-all to cover anything related to fall protection equipment. In producing the new Z359.1 standard, ASSE was able to honor that brand recognition.
Starting in 2014, the committee undertook a landmark revision to the Z359.1 standard that requires manufacturers to meet all provisions of the Fall Protection Code in order to claim compliance with ANSI.
The specific language used in the standard is:
Before any product shall bear an ANSI/ASSE Z359 marking or be represented in any way as being in compliance with any ANSI/ASSE Z359 standard, the requirements of the associated product standard shall be met.
Said another way, equipment can only be considered compliant with ANSI if it is compliant with all applicable standards within the entire Fall Protection Code. As such, the requirements are now more stringent and protective than the previous Z359.1 standard.
One Code—One Point of Reference
While a majority of the criteria within the Fall Protection Code is prepared to create consistency and minimum requirements for products offered by manufacturers and distributors, there is also a significant amount of information that is relevant for the user's organization.
The primary intent of this standard is to provide a key to understanding and applying all the various standards that make up the ANSI/ASSE Z359 Fall Protection Code. While the equipment component standards still provide the detailed content related to their respective subjects, the new Code provides a single point of reference to define and validate compliance with the Code.
All component-oriented product standards are numbered with a scheme that includes two digits, starting at the body support device and ending at the anchorage. Therefore, ANSI/ASSE Z359.11 is the first component-oriented product standard and therefore, it addresses the requirements for a full body harness. Also, ANSI/ASSE Z359.18 addresses anchorage connectors which are commonly the terminus of component-oriented products.
Applying the Fall Protection Code
The interdependence of the ANSI/ASSE Z359 standards is key to their application. In addition, it is becoming more common—and in some instances a requirement—that a qualified person (who is commonly an engineer) design the overall system. This act of design includes selecting the system, ensuring strength of the anchorage(s), specifying equipment components, preparing use and rescue procedures, and verifying the implementation of general and system-specific training. Requirements for engineered systems are found in the Z359.6 standard.
It's also important to note the following points to maintain ongoing compliance with the Fall Protection Code:
- All products must meet the current version of the applicable standard when purchased.
- Products in use when new standards or revisions to existing standards become effective can continue to be used until they are removed from service.
- The ANSI/ASSE Z359.1 standard will be kept up to date as new standards and revisions are developed and published, so organizations must follow these ongoing updates to maintain compliance.
There's More to Fall Protection than Equipment
Although the equipment aspect of fall protection is likely the most visible element, all of the standards must be implemented to create a safe and truly compliant fall protection system and program. For example, training, fall hazard surveys, and procedures are critical to safely identifying, evaluating, and controlling fall hazards. The ANSI/ASSE Z359.2 standard is the only place to find vetted guidance on a managed fall protection program and should be integral to your overall program.
Also, relevant information can be found within the product standards that provides guidance on the use and limitations associated with the specific product category. Manufacturers and distributors are also required to provide this information in the instruction material provided with the product.
Where Do You Go from Here?
- Continue to reference ANSI Z359.1 in your organization's program—it is the easiest way to cast a net around all the different standards.
- Download and read the standard, especially the foreword, to better understand how the ANSI Z359 standards are constructed.
Consider attending the virtual symposium sponsored by ASSE on Feb. 20 and 21 to get more information and questions of those involved on the Z359 Accredited Standards Committee. See asse.org for more information.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Thomas E. Kramer, P.E., CSP, is Managing Principal of LJB Inc. He is a safety consultant and structural engineer with 20 years of experience. As a dually registered professional engineer and certified safety professional, he has spent much of his career consulting with clients to reduce risk for workers at heights. He specializes in the assessment and design of fall protection systems, as well as fall protection program development. He is widely considered as a thought leader in the fall protection industry, having given more than 100 technical sessions and workshops on the topic. For his contributions to the safety profession, he received the Edgar Monsanto Queeny Safety Professional of the Year award in 2016.