Workers in potentially hazardous work environments should always feel safe and confident in their safety and personal protective equipment (PPE). Many workers, regardless of their occupation, are exposed to fall hazards during their daily work. Falls from elevations are a leading cause of workplace injuries and fatalities, and proper protection is essential.

Safety should not be a second thought when an electrical worker is climbing a telecommunications tower 100 feet from the ground or a laborer is cleaning windows from a suspended scaffold 50 feet off the ground. There isn’t time to be thinking about “am I safe?” or “am I wearing the right PPE?” That question has already been addressed by a safety director before an employee shows up for work. Ultimately, the employer has a general duty to provide a safe workplace for its employees.

OSHA regs

OSHA has regulations pertaining to fall protection equipment for protecting employees from potential falls in Subpart M, Fall Protection, 29 CFR 1926.500 to 1926.503. Subpart M provides the basic requirements for all fall protection systems and for mandatory employee training in fall hazards. Fall protection regulations are also part of the construction standards in Subpart L – Scaffolding; Subpart N – Cranes, Derricks, Hoists, Elevators and Conveyors; Subpart R – Steel Erection; Subpart S – Underground Construction, Caissons, Cofferdams and Compressed Air; Subpart V – Power Transmission and Distribution; and Subpart X – Stairways and Ladders.

Subpart D of the General Industry Standards, Walking and Working Surfaces, Sections 1910.21 to 1910.32 deals with the basic elements of workplaces such as floor and wall openings, stairs, ladders, scaffolding, etc.

Document your programs

It is essential that employers develop and implement comprehensive, documented fall protection programs meeting the above requirements. These programs shall be prepared by a qualified person, and be specific to the site where the work will occur. The qualified person has appropriate education credentials with extensive knowledge and experience in design, analysis, evaluation and specifications for the applicable work.

Implementation of the plan should be conducted by a competent person who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the work environment with authority to take necessary measures to eliminate the hazards including providing necessary fall protection equipment. Before using any protective equipment, the employer must determine the appropriate equipment for the job.

Confirm performance compliance

Also, the employer should confirm that the product has been certified as complying with the appropriate performance standard by an accredited certification organization. To ensure these critical, protective products comply with a product performance standard, there is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited organization that certifies fall protection equipment used in general industry and construction — the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI).

Confidence is the key in allowing an employee to safely do their job. An employer must make the “right buy” in safety equipment to ensure that the product will protect as it claims. Product certification provides a mechanism to assist safety purchasing professionals in the area of safety and protective products.

A matter of confidence

So what does product certification mean to someone who wears a full-body harness and uses a shock-absorbing lanyard, and who performs such a service? Certification bodies are organizations that verify a product conforms to a specification or standard through product testing and quality assurance controls. They are unbiased organizations that have formal systems in place, which include examining product samples, testing, making periodic follow-up visits to the manufacturing facility and auditing the facility’s quality system.

The work of the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) is somewhat behind the scenes when compared to some other organizations in the industry; but it is quietly helping the industry meet its goal of allowing employees to do their job without concern as to whether their PPE can do the job. What the SEI Board of Directors and staff strive toward is to encourage safety professionals to look for the SEI label when purchasing their PPE.

ANSI Z359.1

An SEI label on fall protection equipment assures that the product conforms to industry standards and that the manufacturer consistently produces quality products. The standard, ANSI Z359.1 – 1992 (R 1999), Safety Requirements for Personal Fall Arrest Systems, Subsystems and Components, used by SEI was approved by the SEI Board of Directors, which includes representatives from users of safety equipment such as organized labor and corporate safety directors.

Critical purchasing decisions are simplified, and those workers wearing an SEI certified product have the assurance that their protective equipment complies with the ANSI Z 359.1 standard. ANSI Z359.1 establishes requirements for the performance, design, marking, qualification, instruction, training, inspection, use, maintenance, and removal from service of connectors, full-body harnesses, lanyards, energy absorbers, anchorage connectors, fall arresters, vertical lifelines, and self-retracting lanyards comprising personal fall arrest systems for users within the capacity range of 130 to 310 pounds (59 to 140 kg).

ANSI’s consensus standard system solicits the advice of every possible users group and technical support from as many experts as possible. ANSI received help from engineers, manufacturers, insurance interests, testing laboratories, universities, unions, and other knowledgeable safety industry organizations in the development of ANSI Z359.1.

SEI employs a two-pronged approach to its certification program:


First, manufacturers’ product models are submitted to SEI’s independent laboratory, Midwest Testing Laboratories of Troy, Mich., for product testing. Midwest Testing Laboratories has in place a 4,500-square-foot test facility, with a test tower constructed solely for the SEI certification program, giving the laboratory full capabilities to test to all requirements of ANSI Z359.1.

Corrective action by the manufacturer is required on any test failure in the case of a new product model. For annual testing on a certified product, if a failure occurs corrective action is required with the possibility of a recall of affected products.

Quality assurance

Second, a quality assurance audit must be conducted at the manufacturing facility. The SEI auditor inspects the facilities and audits the quality assurance system through a review of documents and records. Technical requirements such as applicable specifications, blueprints, work instructions, sampling plans, purchasing and inspection procedures are scrutinized.

The audit includes facilities maintenance, the inspection function, measuring and test equipment, non-conforming material handling, corrective action procedures, distribution and product traceability. For the SEI Fall Protection Program, each new manufacturer must complete a document, “Self-Evaluation of Compliance to ANSI Z359.1,” for review by the auditor prior to the SEI audit.

Both product testing and quality audits are conducted annually. When the manufacturer completes testing and has met all SEI quality assurance requirements, they are authorized to claim certification and label their product as meeting the ANSI Z359.1 standard. While the SEI certification program claims no superiority of one product over another, the SEI label on the certified full-body harness or shock-absorbing lanyard demonstrates the product complies with all SEI requirements.

Other certified products

For safety officials selecting PPE, SEI continues to certify a broad range of products for the industry. Other product categories are: 1) hard hats; 2) protective eyewear including spectacles, goggles, welding helmets and faceshields; 3) emergency eyewash and safety showers; 4) fire fighter helmets (structural, wildland, proximity & USAR); 5) gas detector tube units; 6) coveralls; 7) life safety rope, harnesses and hardware; 8) self-contained breathing apparatus & personal alert safety (PASS) devices; 9) emergency response chemical and vapor protective clothing (ensembles including boots and gloves); 10) emergency medical operations clothing; 11) fire service rescue tools; 12) bump caps; 13) bicycle helmets; and 14) equestrian helmets and body protectors.

Currently participating in the SEI Fall Protection program is: Dalloz Fall Protection, DBI/SALA, McCordick Safety, and MSA Fall Protection. Those manufacturers with SEI certified products can be found on the SEI Web site at