Adjusting to a New Standard

ANSI Z359.7-2011 took effect on Oct. 3, 2012. It applies to all products within the Z359 Fall Protection Code.

The new ANSI Z359.7-2011 standard for qualification and verification testing that is now in effect will provide welcome assurance to end users who are considering any kind of fall protection PPE, said Craig Firl, North American technical manager for Capital Safety.

Describing it as an "umbrella standard" for the Z359 Fall Protection Code, Firl said the importance of Z359.7-2011 is that it establishes the requirement to test products to the code's standards in an accredited laboratory setting -- a lab that's been audited and reaudited. The audit checks the test equipment, determines that procedures are documented and followed, and confirms the test equipment meets all requirements of the standards, he explained.

"What it's really telling us is that we have to develop products in an accredited lab setting to the appropriate requirements for that device. And you might say, why is this new? That may have been true with a lot of manufacturers, but it wasn't always the case. It wasn't technically a requirement," Firl said. "It's quite a significant step forward. At the end of the day, what you would expect out of this standard is that product could be tested anywhere in an accredited lab setting and you'd get repeatable results. It takes out a lot of the gray area or area that might be open to interpretation." The standard provides a high level of assurance for the end user, and the knowledge that ongoing testing is part of this also is important to end users, he said.

The new standard applies to all products within the Z359 Fall Protection Code, not to specific types of products, such as harnesses, energy-absorbing lanyards, or self-retracting lifelines. It was published in October 2011, but the committee responsible for it recognized it would take manufacturers some time to be in position to meet it, Firl said.

"It was a significant amount of work," he continued. "We were prepared for it and planned accordingly -- how we would go about producing compliant products that were meeting the standards."

Leveling the Playing Field
Capital Safety's lab accreditation covers EN and CSA standards, in addition to U.S. standards. Asked how rigorous was the audit of the Capital Safety lab, he replied, "I won't say it was easy. We pride ourselves, and always have, on doing a lot of testing. There were some things we had to gear up for and make sure the documentation and processes were in line. The biggest amount of work was really the actual testing and retesting [of products]. It literally meant thousands and thousands of both dynamic and static tests needed to be performed, and of course documented, and then kept on file, so that if and when the user of the product asks to see its certification ... we can provide that."

Firl said other manufacturers of fall protection equipment are working toward compliance with the standard, and some have accredited labs that are producing compliant products, while some have opted to contract with outside accredited labs.

While the process did not change the designs of products, it did affect labeling, and a huge amount of data must be recorded and retained, he said. A full-body harness, for instance, requires move than a half dozen tests. A manufacturer has to go back and do verification testing at least every five years if it has a documented quality system in place.

Previously, "manufacturers were allowed to test as they deemed necessary. As you know, there's different levels of manufacturers and so forth, and I guess to put it politely, we wanted to be near the top of that pile and do what was right," Firl said. "This standard really helped kind of level the playing field, helped establish testing requirements and retesting, and I think from an end user's standpoint, they look at this and see this is now an official, tested component that's come out of an accredited lab. Auditing and so forth trails behind it. So it's fairly important."

End user awareness is building, he said. "It is an important standard that I would believe a lot of your readers will want to know about and learn about," Firl said.

Qualification and Verification Testing
Requirements of ANSI Z359.7 must be met before a product can be marked "ANSI Compliant," and it also is marked with the applicable Z359 standard for the item, according to Capital Safety.
  • The test laboratory must be in compliance with ISO 17025.
  • The complete standard, not just selected sections, must be complied with.
  • Requirements are met via three ways in which fall protection products can be tested.
  • Certificates of Compliance are available online at www.capitalsafety.com.
  • Detailed proof of compliance to standards are available upon request.

For more information, visit http://en.capitalsafety.us/ANSIZ3597/tabid/3202/language/en-US/Default.aspx.

End users can search here by part number and print certificates of compliance that show the product came from an accredited lab and with which ANSI standards it complies: http://en.capitalsafety.us/USTools/USCertificateofCompliance/tabid/3168/language/en-US/Default.aspx

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 OHS issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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