New fall protection standards

By Lyn Watts, Sperian
Tuesday, 22 January, 2008

The updated Australian and New Zealand Standard for the manufacture of fall protection harnesses and lanyards, AS/NZS 1891 Part 1, was released late 2007.

The changes to the manufacturing part of the standard (Part 1), are so far reaching that in the next few months there will be an updating of Part 4 of the standard - AS/NZS 1891.4. This covers how fall protection equipment is to be selected, used and maintained.

A major change for many workers will affect how they work in 'restraint' (where they are connected to a structure in a way that prevents them getting to a position where they may risk a free fall).

If a person wishes to work in 'restraint', the new requirement is for the equipment and anchorage they are using to be classified as 'fall arrest' (this usually means the equipment is to be fitted with an energy absorber).

Under these changes, it will no longer be possible to have restraint equipment made and certified to AS/NZS 1891; the only classifications will be for: 'work positioning', 'confined space' or 'fall protection'.

This one change to the standard will make working at heights dramatically safer. There have been too many 'near misses' and fatalities where people think they have been working in 'restraint', only to have the surface that they are working on collapse or shift.

The other major change is that all harnesses made to the new standard will be fitted with a 'full fall arrest' anchorage point on the front of the harnesses. While there are many harnesses out in the workplace with frontal connection, only some (eg, Miller 'Towerworker' and 'Stretchguard', distributed by Sperian) have been rated as 'full fall arrest'. This new change in the regulations will require all harnesses to be manufactured up to this level.

One of the main benefits of having a frontal fall arrest point on a harness is the ease with which such a harness can be used with many of the installed fall arrest systems that are rapidly making access to even very complex structures safer. These systems allow the person to be continuously connected to the structure from the moment that they leave the ground. This type of equipment makes fall protection programs for maintenance and construction crews easier and safer.

This change will make harnesses easier to use for people working in many industries as it will enable them to comfortably connect to their fall arrest systems and to easily confirm that connection.

Having a prominent frontal connection point will also facilitate a rescue connection, should there be a need to rescue the wearer after a fall.

The upgrading of the standard also includes a requirement to increase the strength of the latches on connection components, such as hooks. This will bring these components up to international standards.

Other changes to Part 4 clear up some of the misunderstandings that have evolved in the industry over the last few years. For example, the limits of sit harnesses are more precisely defined (they are not allowed to be used where there is a risk of more than 600 mm of free fall). It is foreseeable in the future that this type of 'lower body harness' may well be removed from the industrial fall protection market altogether.

The new edition of Part 4 will also clarify the amount of ground clearance required in a variety of potential fall situations. This will make the setting up of fall arrest systems far safer, accurate and above all, realistic.

The changes brought about in this standard have the full support of fall protection users and equipment manufacturers, as it is generally believed that this will create a safer working environment for people working at heights.

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