For 15 years now, ANSI Z359.1 has been the go-to standard for fall protection information and compliance guidelines. Equipment designed to prevent falls or stop a fall in progress have been in use for decades. Harnesses, lifelines, lanyards, energy absorbers, anchorage connectors and elements of the equipment such as rope, straps and connectors, were all addressed and regulated by the original standard published in 1992 and revised in 1999. This standard was published as the first in a series of standards meant to address comprehensive fall protection programs. Only now are the remaining items in the series, those addressing equipment and programs outside the realm of fall arrest, coming to fruition.

The American National Standards Committee on Standards for Fall Protection has proposed revising the current standard to encompass a family of standards that will address managed fall protection programs, work positioning, work restraint systems and rescue equipment in addition to fall arrest equipment (see “Updated fall protection standards” sidebar). The revisions to the current standard and addition of the new sections are nearing completion with publication expected as soon as June 2007.

Changes afoot
Several new portions and revisions to existing portions of the standard will significantly affect employers and end-users of fall protection equipment. Within the existing ANSI Z359.1, the load that snaphooks and carabiner gates must withstand will increase to 3,600 pounds in each direction, including the gate face, side of the gate and loading the gate in the minor axis (minor axis strength does not apply to connectors with a permanent, captive eye).

This revision will make connecting elements of fall protection equipment stronger, which must be differentiated from describing it as safer. Equipment that meets the standard in its current form will protect workers in the event of a fall, provided that it is properly connected. Accidents happen due to misuse, incompatibly matched elements and damaged equipment. One known cause of such accidents, forced rollout, can occur when a worker improperly ties off to something incompatibly shaped. The higher strength requirement of snaphooks and carabiners will greatly reduce the chance of this occurring.

The impact of this change will be significant because all snaphooks and carabiners currently in use, whether connected to a harness, lifeline, lanyard or other piece of equipment, will need to be updated. Because connectors are often integral to the component, refitting old equipment with new parts will not work in most cases. (It may be possible to update some equipment that is repairable, such as self-retracting lanyards). Once the new standard is published, a transitional period will begin in which employers may use equipment that meets the old and new requirements.

Additional changes
Additional changes outlined in Z359.1 that will have an effect on employers and end-users include the provision of the front-mounted D-ring element on harnesses for fall arrest, where maximum free-fall distance is limited to two feet and maximum arrest force is 900 pounds. Previously, this element could only be used for ladder climbing, fall restraint and work positioning. Twin-leg lanyards are also addressed in the standard for the first time.

ANSI Z359.2, a proposed new section to the standard, will address how to organize and manage a fall protection program. A program is required whenever one or more persons are routinely exposed to fall hazards. Planning and implementing a comprehensive program ensures that fall hazards are identified, workers are protected, personnel are trained, equipment is installed and properly used, and procedures are in place should a fall occur.

Requirements for additional equipment that are new to the standard are scattered throughout the other new sections. Items addressed include anchorages for a variety of systems, rope access systems, work positioning systems, travel restraint systems, rescue harnesses, self-retracting lanyards with integral rescue capability, synthetic rope tackle blocks, descent devices and personnel hoists.

SIDEBAR: Updated fall protection standards

ANSI Z359.0– Definitions and Nomenclature Used for Fall Protection and Fall ArrestANSI Z359.1– Safety Requirements for Personal Fall Arrest Systems, Subsystems and ComponentsANSI Z359.2– Minimum Requirements for a Comprehensive Managed Fall Protection ProgramANSI Z359.3– Safety Requirements for Positioning and Travel Restraint SystemsANSI Z359.4– Safety Requirements for Assisted-Rescue and Self-Rescue Systems, Subsystems and Components