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Larger people lead to change in fall safety equipment

August 21, 2011
By PAUL GIANNAMORE - Business editor ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - With Americans getting larger, trends are changing the equipment used in industry and construction to save workers who fall, according to Dave Gallegly of Sperian Fall Protection Inc.

Gallegly told the August meeting of the Jefferson County Safety Council Wednesday that the basics are to consider rescue before someone goes up to a place where they can fall, and then consider the letters A-B-C.

The A stands for anchor point, B for body wear and C for connecting device, he said.

Article Photos

FALL SAFETY — Dave Gallegly of Sperian Fall Protection Inc. demonstrates a shock-absorbing lanyard, part of a fall-prevention system, during Wednesday’s August meeting of the Jefferson County Safety Council. -Paul Giannamore

The issue of rescue before going to a high place involves knowing what to do if someone is hanging over the edge by their harness and how to get them down. Usually it means knowing to call 911 first, but it also can mean knowing how to use a manlift's controls or where the worker climbed a ladder.

He said anchor points have to be strong enough to withstand a 5,000-pound static load per person before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will approve the anchor point.

"Or, would you feel comfortable hanging a full-sized F-150 truck from the point and standing under it nose to nose. If you wouldn't, don't use that anchor point," he said.

As for body wear, he said body belts have not been acceptable under the federal safety standards since 1998. Full harnesses and a back connection to a shock absorber strap are the accepted method, with a D-ring used to attach the device to the worker's back.

Connecting devices, he said, are changing. He said the trend is to try to increase the use of the self-retracting lifeline, which works like a seatbelt retractor. The worker can continue moving out on the lifeline unless it detects movement greater than 4 1/2 feet per second, when the line locks in place. He said they're good for up to a 400-lb. worker. He said with people weighing more, the standard is moving away from the safety lanyard line, which maxes out at about 310 pounds.

"New devices are quicker, safer and you don't fall as far or hit as hard," he said.

There are, however, issues of compatibility, relating to how the rings and connectors at the ends of devices link to anchor points or other devices.

He said the key is to preserve the stopping force on the body. The OSHA maximum allowed is 1,800 pounds of force, but the worker is usually injured at those forces. He said the death threshhold is 2,700 pounds of force.

Workers can use a simple test to see if their device can be hooked to an anchor point. If the hook passes through the ring on the anchor, it means at least that the gate on the hook won't get caught and open if the

hook moves around while the worker is working. He said the worker still has to be sure to be hooked to a valid anchor point.

He said the American National Standards Institute, which develops engineered standards for a wide variety of safety devices, including harnesses and fall-saving apparatus, is re-writing the general industry fall standards to reflect greater strength in hooks at the end of safety devices. He said shock absorber straps are being recommended to be made 4 inches longer.

The standards aren't fully re-written and OSHA will have to debate and recommend which new standards make it into the federal code, Gallegly said.

He said a chief change is in the test weight. It used to be ANSI used a test weight representing a 310-pound person. He said now, the test recommendation is for a 400-pound person. He said there is no shock absorber strap available yet to use at that weight.

"In the next three to five years, you can expect changes," he said.

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