Insufficient anchorage strength and inappropriate anchorage connection are two common mistakes made with fall protection equipment. While anchorage connectors are important tools for working at height, they are only effective if used properly.
Due to the complexity of anchorage connectors, safety professionals and users need to take steps to confirm that the anchorage point selected is strong enough to safely arrest a fall and that the anchorage is at a point that will allow a worker to avoid injury should they fall.
Get to Know Anchorage Connector Types
The first step to using anchorage connectors properly is understanding the different types of connectors and their unique purpose and capabilities. ANSI/ASSP Z359.18, Safety Requirements for Anchorage Connectors for Active Fall Protection Systems, divides anchorage connectors into three different classes:
- Type A: An anchorage connector (other than Type T or Type D) designed for an active fall protection system.
- Type T: An anchorage connector designed to support a suspended component/tie-back line or for an active fall protection system.
- Type D: An anchorage connector designed to allow deformation or movement when arresting a fall with the purpose of absorbing fall energy and reducing the strength requirements of the anchorage to which it is attached. Deformation may be permanent or temporary.
Typically, the anchorage connector itself must have a strength of 5,000 lbs. In some cases, Type D anchorage connectors may not be suitable for work positioning, rescue, rope access and suspended component/tie-back because of their low serviceability rating. Travel restraint may also be acceptable based on the serviceability rating and deformation limits of the individual product.
Greg Small, chair of the ANSI/ASSP Z359.18 subcommittee notes that even though different anchorage connector types may be subjected to the same test, that does not mean that they will perform the same way in the field.
“You mustn’t assume that because two anchorage connectors pass the same standard that they are going to perform in the same fashion,” he says. “It’s important for users to dig into what anchorage connectors are designed to do so that they don’t mistakenly assume that there’s no difference between them because they pass the same test.”
For example, Type D anchorage connectors are allowed to deform and, therefore, allow you to fall further. If a Type D anchorage connector is used to anchor a horizontal lifeline, even a small deformation of the anchorage connector could result in a much greater sag of the horizontal lifeline, meaning a longer fall and creating the need for greater fall clearance.
Select Appropriate Anchor Points
In addition to selecting the right anchorage connector for a particular task, you need to verify that the anchor point is strong enough and placed so it will safely arrest a fall.
“An aspect that is often overlooked is where anchors are located,” says Small. “You want to make sure anchor points are as high as possible so that falls can be arrested at a shorter distance and that you don’t subject yourself to a swing fall.”
ANSI/ASSP Z359.0, Z359 Committee Guidance Document for Definitions and Nomenclature Used in Z359 Fall Protection and Fall Restraint Standards, defines a swing fall as “a pendulum-like motion that occurs during and/or after a vertical fall. A swing fall results when an authorized person begins a fall from a position that is located horizontally away from a fixed anchorage.”
To confirm that anchor points are correct for a particular task, a qualified person can certify that an anchor has the minimum required strength.
“You want to have something that's substantial because the forces can be quite large when someone impacts the anchor,” Small explains. “You can’t just take an anchorage connector that’s rated for 5,000 lbs., fasten it to drywall and think it’s going to hold 5,000 lbs.”
ANSI/ASSP Z359.18 also requires that:
- A connection point support only one user or system at a time.
- A connection point eye on a Type T anchorage connector be a closed eye with a minimum 1-inch inside radius.
- Except for cinching anchorage connectors, anchorage connectors shall not have closed loops that are not intended for, or could be mistaken for, a connection point.
- Anchorage connectors that include an operate gate, rings, buckles, adjusters or other hardware covered by ANSI/ASSP Z359.12, Connecting Components for Personal Fall Arrest Systems, shall use hardware that complies with the requirements of ANSI/ASSP Z359.12.
- Multiple connection points shall only be permitted on tripod and davit style anchorage connectors.
Use Anchorage Connectors as Directed
Although a simple step, one critical step you can take to keep workers safe at height is to read and understand the instructions for using anchorage connectors correctly. Manufacturers can design anchorage connectors to manage the energy of a fall in different ways, so workers need to understand what an anchorage connector has been designed to do.
“It’s important that end-users read the literature and use anchorage connectors properly,” Small explains. “Workers need to understand how the manufacturer has intended the anchorage connector to be used.”
Small notes that some anchors can screw into soil or metal decking, while others can wrap around trees. These different circumstances leave anchorage connectors open to misuse if workers do not understand how the manufacturer intended them to be used.
“In the field, I see people tying things other than fall protection to anchors out of convenience because they need an anchor for something else,” he explains. “You never want to overload an anchor.”
Furthermore, while the concept of what anchorage connectors do appears to be simple, they are the most complicated part of the fall protection system.
“Anchorage connectors are where the fall protection system interfaces with the real world, and as a result you have hundreds, if not thousands of different ways of connecting,” says Small. “So, they are the most complicated and potentially subject to the most abuse If you take one that's intended for one purpose and use it for a purpose that it's not intended to use for.”
Listen to our podcast with Greg Small of the ANSI/ASSP Z359.18 subcommittee to learn more about fall protection anchorage.