All anchors are not the same — the difference could be life or death
It’s a common scenario. Contractors are up on the roof about to conduct some basic maintenance work, perhaps something as simple as cleaning the windows on the facade of your building. You know there are anchors installed so everything should be fine, right? But did you know those workers’ lives could be at risk if the anchors they use are not correct for the application?
Alternatively, you may be the contractor whose job it is to clean the windows. You feel confident and safe because you have been told by the building owner that there are anchors installed. But when you climb up to the roof you realise incorrect anchors have been installed for the job so you are unable to continue. Many frustrating minutes later you are left trying to explain to the client why you cannot carry out what he wants.
So, what IS the difference between fall arrest anchors and ones that are used for rope access/abseiling, and why does it matter?
First, let’s clarify some definitions.
- Fall prevention: Removes the risk of the worker falling by providing a barrier between them and the fall hazard.
- Fall restraint: Restricts the movement of the worker in reaching the fall edge.
- Fall arrest: Arrests the fall of the worker once it has occurred.
- Rope access: A method of enabling work to be carried out on atriums, facades or exterior areas at height using a rope abseil system.
- Static load: A constant load or force that is sustained with little to no drastic weight changes or movements such as when an operator is abseiling.
- Dynamic load: A load that results when a sharp or sudden movement occurs, such as when a worker may unexpectedly fall and come to an abrupt stop. A dynamic load is a significantly higher load than a static load.
As fall arrest and rope access anchors are subjected to different types of loads they must be tested and rated accordingly. Fall arrest anchors need to be able to withstand the force that will be placed on them in the event of a fall occurring (dynamic load). According to Australian Standards, the dynamic load rating required for fall arrest anchors for a single person is 15 kN. Rope access/abseil anchors are designed to sustain a constant static load and they must be rated at 12 kN.
To ensure their effectiveness, fall arrest systems must have a personal energy absorber fitted. In some cases, fall arrest anchors will have built-in energy-absorbing properties; however, it is essential that any lanyard or adjustable rope line must have a personal energy absorber attached, inline, to the operator’s harness. Anchors, rope lines and lanyards fitted with shock absorbers will deploy when activated, thereby absorbing much of the impact of the fall. It is important to note that some anchors are not designed to be under constant static load so these anchors should never be used for abseil work.
There are several anchors on the market that can be used for both applications. These types of anchors can withstand constant static loads as well as being able to handle a dynamic load should it be required in the event of a sudden fall.
But how can you as a building owner, manager, designer or installer ensure that there is no risk to operators working at height? The best and easiest way is to clarify what work is going to be performed. Window cleaning and facade access, for example, would require rope access/abseil anchors rated at 12 kN. General access to the roof or elevated areas when protection from the fall edge is required would necessitate the installation of fall arrest anchors rated at 15 kN.
Always ensure that the anchors fitted are suitable for the application and that they are only ever used for their intended purpose.
For more information on which anchors are suitable for what applications, read Sayfa Group’s document ‘Choosing the right anchor’ at www.sayfa.com.au/docs/DesignTip-TheRightAnchor_01.05.2017.pdf
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