Is Fall Arrest Equipment Too Good?

Experts discussed the differences between U.S. and international standards and the recent move to make some components strong enough to withstand much larger fall forces.

MONTREAL -- At least some international experts believe the industry has gone too far when it comes to designing especially strong components for fall arrest equipment. This sentiment emerged during a Monday AIHce 2013 technical session comparing international standards.

Bill Parsons of the Parsons Engineering Group (St. Johns, Newfoundland), an engineer, asked whether manufacturers are making equipment so robust that the worker is essentially being ejected from the process. “Are we telling workers that a 12-foot free fall is okay? Because it’s not. A 12-foot free fall is a car crash, physiologically speaking,” Parsons said during a presentation he gave during the session.

He discussed four types of complexity: process, system, equipment, and environment. “The sum of all of these complexities has to be less than the aggregate knowledge of the worker. He has to be able to manage that task,” Parsons said.

Greg Small, president of HIGH Engineering Corp. of Calgary, Canada, noted that authorities in some jurisdictions are moving toward a stance that working at any height requires some type of fall protection. “The regulators are trying to decide what’s a safe height, or perhaps they mean a reasonable height,” he said. He also pointed out the inconsistency in OSHA’s current fall protection requirement, which in most cases is triggered at 6 feet. The agency also says employers are in compliance when they assume a 6-foot fall clearance distance and 3.5 feet of deceleration distance -– meaning the worker who’s wearing acceptable equipment at a height of 8 feet still could impact the lower level. “Fall protection is complicated. The regulations and standards are the minimum of what you should be doing,” Small said.

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