Fall-induced fatalities increased five percent in 2006 to 809 after sharply decreasing in 2005. That figure, released in the August 2007 report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was the third highest since the fatality census began in 1992. In 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available, falls represented the second most frequent cause of death among 5,734 fatal occupational injuries. In the same year there were 234,450 non-fatal falls resulting in injuries requiring days away from work in private industry.

Countering unacceptable statistics
OSHA’s basic fall protection rule has long required employees working four feet or more above the ground at any time in general industry to have fall protection. The standard is five feet in the maritime industry and six in construction.

Until last November, ANSI Z359 fall protection standards focused on personal fall arrest systems. The revised standard, ANSI Z359-2007, although not yet adopted by OSHA, puts more emphasis on minimum requirements for comprehensive, managed fall protection programs (Z359.2). It also tightens the criteria for fall arrest systems (Z359.1) and introduces new safety requirements for work positioning and travel restraint systems (Z359.3) as well as for assisted rescue and self-rescue systems, subsystems and components (Z359.4).

Implementing a written program
What practical measures should an employer take to improve fall protection?

The first step is to implement a comprehensive, written fall protection program based on the new guidelines. The revised standard addresses training and equipment and also requires compliance with ANSI Z490.1, “Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health and Environmental Training.”

The new guidelines encourage eliminating or controlling fall hazards in the facilities planning stage. For already constructed facilities, the employer must produce a survey report that identifies fall hazards at each work site and recommends methods for eliminating or controlling each one.

ANSI357-2007 also requires a prompt, comprehensive incident investigation in the event of accidental death, injury or property damage, using well-established reporting procedures and documented results. A critical component is periodic evaluation of the effectiveness of the managed fall protection program and inclusion of regularly scheduled program reviews and drills.

Rescue capabilities are essential
The new standard places much more emphasis on rescue as an essential part of the fall protection program, and rightly so. Failure to rescue a worker promptly, preferably within 15 minutes after an arrested fall, can cause blood to pool in the legs and/or a blood clot to form. Trauma straps and stirrups should be attached to harnesses to enable a fall victim to stand and move leg muscles, thus avoiding or delaying traumas which otherwise could result in unconsciousness and death.

Rescue can be hastened with rope access such as an automatic evacuation rope descender featuring multiple-person evacuation capability as well as other capabilities addressed in the new standards. Evaluating the area where the rope is used, using a full-body harness and using working and safety lines are all prerequisites for working on vertical rope lines.

The maximum fall distance for rope access when connected to the dorsal D-ring of a harness is six feet, and the maximum arresting force is 1,800 lbs. Other specified standards include a 3,000-lb. static strength for non-certified anchors and a static strength five times the applied load for certified anchors. Fall protection systems connected to non-certified anchors must limit potential free fall to six feet or less and use an energy-absorbing device that limits maximum arrest forces to 900 lbs. or less.

Improving equipment
Another goal of the ANSI Z359.1-2007 standard is improving the strength and performance of fall arrest equipment. While the requirement for the major axis tensile strength of hooks and carabiners stays at 5,000 lbs., the major change involves an increase in the snap-hook and carabiner gate-face and side-load strengths to 3,600 lbs. from 220 lbs. and 350 lbs., respectively. The ANSI standards committee also created a new minor-axis loading requirement of 3,600 lbs. for connectors with non-integral eyes. Other changes include permitting use of a frontal D-ring for fall arrest (with loads limited to 900 lbs. and a maximum free fall of 2 feet) and the requirement of additional testing and warnings for twin-leg shock-absorbing lanyards.

Work positioning/travel restraint
The new standard includes work positioning and travel restraint, used today by a broad array of industries. Positioning products that allow access to a vertical work area with hands free to perform the assigned task must be used in conjunction with a fall protection system, as per ANSI Z359.1-2007. Travel restraint systems that prevent a worker from reaching a fall hazard can only be used in areas with a slope of 18.4 degrees or less.

Other highlights include a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 lbs. for lanyards used with these systems, a full-body harness that meets the requirements of ANSI Z359.1-2007 for fall arrest, and attachment elements (D-rings) that can withstand a 3.3-foot free fall with a 220-lb. test weight.

Saving lives
Today we have the technology and capability to prevent most fall-related accidents and to provide life-saving rescue should such accidents occur. With the availability of improved methods and equipment as specified in the new ANSI Z359-2007 standard, it is incumbent upon all responsible employers to implement and manage the most effective and comprehensive fall safety programs possible.