By Jean Lian
For people who use or manufacture fall-protection equipment, 2018 marks a year of significant changes stemming from updates to Z259.11 Energy Absorbers and Lanyards that the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group) made in January 2017. The new edition of the standard specifies requirements concerning the performance, design, tests, labelling and marking of personal energy absorbers and lanyards.
“There has been so much new standards coming into effect this year,” says Alex Tsen, director of fall protection with DSI Safety Inc. in Mississauga, Ontario.
For Tsen, the most significant change is the elimination of energy-absorber classes of E4 and E6. In the standard’s previous version, there were two classes of energy absorbers, classified according to the maximum weight the device can absorb to reflect the variety of workers’ height and weight: Class E4 was meant for workers weighing between 45 kg and 115 kg; and Class E6 for those in the weight range of 90 kg to 175 kg.
“Depending on how much you weigh, you have to pick a lanyard that is suitable for you,” Tsen says.
The new edition eliminated the two classes and their set weight ranges. “Now, it is a lot more open for manufacturers to develop what they want, which poses a problem in the industry because if you have set parameters, everybody kind of knew what those parameters were,” Tsen suggests.
With more flexibility in selecting energy absorbers, “users have to pay attention to the labels to ensure the products they have in their hand are suitable for what their weight range is going to be,” he adds. “All lanyards in the marketplace will have to be retested, and the weight has to be realigned.”
THE NEXT BIG THING
Another change relates to self-retracting lifeline (SRLs), which is designed to pull out and retract easily and equipped with a braking system that kicks in when subjected to the sudden tug of a fall to arrest the descent. “They act like seat belts in your car,” Tsen illustrates.
An SRL that travels repeatedly over a leading edge or the unprotected end of a flat surface, formwork, floor, roof or deck, can cause the webbing of the SRL to fray. If the lifeline bends 90° around the sharp edge of a concrete surface during a fall, the amount of force generated by the fall arrest can cut through the lifeline, notes information from Infrastructure Health and Safety Association in Mississauga, Ontario.
As a result, CSA has added a leading-edge classification to address this hazard, according to Tsen, who is a technical committee member of CSA Z259 Fall Protection Standards. “It is a whole new different class of SRLs that the market has not seen before,” he says. “That is a new category that will require a lot of development and new products from manufacturers to come up with a solution that will pass the testing.”
And more end-users are gravitating towards SRLs. “They are definitely the future of fall protection,” Tsen says of SRLs, which are becoming an increasingly popular choice for connecting devices used in the marketplace.
John Fuke, technical services manager with 3M Fall Protection in Mississauga, Ontario, agrees. “We are trending more and more towards SRLs away from lanyards, and in the States, and they are even more popular.”
Various factors are driving this trend. “SRLs, first of all, have gotten better,” Fuke explains. “They also have energy absorption, which most didn’t in the past. They are also way more convenient to use; you don’t trip over them, they are out of your way.”
The price gap between lanyards and SRLs has also narrowed. “SRLs used to be considerably more expensive than lanyards; that is not the case anymore,” Fuke adds.
3M carries a selection of SRLs, one of which is the Rebel™ Self Retracting Lifeline — a galvanized steel wire rope with a swivel snap hook and in-line shock absorber designed for leading edges. Built with a rugged, lightweight thermoplastic housing, it has a stackable housing design and built-in carrying handle with internal and external energy absorption systems. Other features include its high strength, corrosion-resistant components, side lifeline exit with ergonomic handle and a self-locking anchorage carabiner.
The third change relates to the use of lanyards and rope grabs. In the previous version of the fall-protection standard, users are allowed to use a 30-inch lanyard separately from a rope grab. The updated version requires that both the 30-inch lanyard and rope grab to be used as one component.
Tsen says the new requirements is a step in the right direction, but one that may not go down well with some users, especially those who are used to working with a longer lanyard or prefer having two separate devices instead of one, because a lanyard tends to wear out faster than a rope grab.
“In the future, they are going to have to replace the whole unit, which is more of an expensive replacement cost,” he suggests.
The rationale behind CSA’s new requirement is to prevent misuse, such as connecting a six-foot lanyard to a rope grab. “People are continuously using six-foot lanyards combined with a rope grab, or a rope fall arrester,” Fuke says. “If you fall, you basically deploy the complete energy absorber and fall into the backup lanyard.”
STEEP LEARNING CURVE
With these standard updates, selecting appropriate fall-protection products has become more complex, suggests Anne Osbourn, marketing manager for the construction segment with MSA in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. “We are seeing more questions around fall-protection personal protective equipment (PPE) for work around exposed edges. There is also a lot more acknowledgement from standards organizations to address these leading edge applications in product design.”
She cites the new CSA standard Z259.2.2-17, which requires SRLs anchored below a D-ring to meet new performance requirements for leading-edge applications. “Because of changes like these, I expect that we will continue to see the need for educationaround this in the years ahead.”
It is always a challenge to ensure that all workers who face fall hazards are not only trained on how to use a product, but undergo continued training so that they are prepared to take the right actions in the event of a fall. But fall arrest is only part of the story; a rescue plan for fallen workers is equally critical in avoiding suspension trauma.
“Too many times, mistakes are made because rescue plans do not receive the necessary attention until it is time to actually carry one out,” Osbourne says.
MSA recently launched the V-FLEX full-body harness — the first in a series of three new harnesses. By focusing on customer-driven insights, the company was able to innovate around the comfort and fit of traditional harnesses, resulting in the unique racing-style design X. “This harness secures a better fit for the worker, thereby minimizing the need for harness adjustments throughout the day,” Osbourn says.
MSA’s V-Flex is designed for working at heights in industries that include construction, mining, oil and gas and utilities. It is made with fall-arrest-rated textile that loops at the front and has a lightweight aluminum back D-ring. The harness version comes with two lateral aluminum D-rings for work positioning.
Other features include shoulder and leg padding for increased comfort, fully adjustable shoulder, chest and thigh straps for perfect sizing and fit, dual-load indicator to alert a user when the harness has been involved in a fall event, bayonet-style buckles with locking engagement window to confirm secure connection and elastic web keepers that provide flexibility to manage excess webbing.
As with any PPE, choosing an appropriate product and using it correctly are key. So is doing due diligence to ensure its functionality. “Fall protection is life-saving equipment, so pre-use inspection is critical for the worker,” Osbourn says.
Signs of wear to look out for include excessive webbing abrasion on connecting devices, corroded hardware, malfunctioning snap hooks and deployed load indicators. The labelling should be on the harness so that users understand the standard certification and what the harness is built for.
“You want to match what is on the label to what is on the harness,” Fuke says. For example, if a user has an ADPL (Arrest, Descent, Positioning and Ladder climbing) harness, they have to ensure that it has all the D rings necessary to function as an ADPL harness.
For communal harnesses shared among a group of workers, a pre-use check becomes all the more imperative. “You want to make sure that you are giving it back in a functional standard. If not, you want to alert the toolcrib attendant that the product is requiring removal from service,” Fuke advises.
The duration of use and a good fit are also crucial factors. “Comfort is a huge factor,” Fuke stresses. A harness with a poor fit can create secondary problems like rub against the user’s neck or cause discomfort due to a lack of padding. This can prompt a user to doff the gear when work conditions require it.
Another common mistake is not tying off a fall-protection system, and one that is more prevalent in certain industries than others. “In some cases, it is attitude and work culture,” Fuke notes. “I think what employers really have to do is embody the culture of fall protection and safety in the organization,” he adds.
For Tsen, the message is clear: “Go out and get educated on the new standards,” he recommends. “Some people think that you have got a product, you put on a harness and you are invincible. But there are limitations to those products as well, so it is important that they get the training and the know-how.”