Developing a successful fall protection program requires a fundamental understanding of the correlating OSHA and ANSI standards. Since the introduction of the OSHA 1926-500 standard in 1998 the evolution of fall protection equipment has progressed rapidly. This has resulted in many new products coming into the marketplace without proper employee training and/or compatibility testing. Products and manufacturers are often mixed and matched without a basic understanding of the associated regulations.

Let’s look at some key points to a fall protection program:

Component compatibility. Rollout and unintentional disengagement are two safety issues frequently addressed by OSHA and ANSI. Both stress the need for a compatible connection to control the potential for this type of equipment failure. Many manufacturers require that a properly trained and certified Competent Person must make the compatibility determination.

Horizontal lifelines. Currently, there are a variety of off-the-shelf horizontal lifelines available and very few applicable OSHA or ANSI standards.

Polyester rope systems are generally rated for a maximum of two workers and have a relatively low anchorage point requirement but a very high fall clearance requirement. Typically, two workers on a 60-ft. span may require as much as 20 ft. of clearance under the walking/working surface while using a self-retracting lifeline.

Steel cable systems generally incorporate a shock-pack inline with a tension indicator. These systems can be rated for up to four or more workers. The anchorage point requirements are higher than with rope, but there is a relatively low fall clearance.

The braided/kermantle systems work much like the steel in terms of worker capacity, anchorage point requirements, and fall clearances. Cable terminations may only require a tensioner due to the cable’s ability to absorb energy during a fall. Typically, four workers on a 60-ft. span would require a 10-ft. clearance under the walking/working surface while using a self-retracting lifeline.

Anchorage points. Anchorages with strengths lower than 5,000 lbs. per person are commonly used in the fall protection industry and are recognized by both OSHA and ANSI. Anchorages need to have a strength capable of sustaining static loads, applied in the directions permitted by the system, of at least 3,600 lbs. (when certification exists) or 5,000 lbs. (in the absence of certification). The standards also require that the components be designed, installed and used as a complete fall arrest system, maintaining a minimum safety factor of two, under the supervision of a Qualified Person. The height of the anchorage should equal at least the height of the back D-ring on a full-body harness and be consistent with the other fall arrest equipment being used.

Many product failures involve a foot-level anchorage point. These types of connections should be avoided as the worker is exposed to a 12-ft. free-fall, and only a small percentage of equipment is tested for that type of fall.