Between 1995 and 2007, workplace fatalities were reduced by 12 percent overall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, during the same period, fatalities from falls increased by 28 percent. Although many people assume that fatal falls happen in only in certain occupations, such as bridge worker, roofer or power line worker, in reality, numerous jobs routinely subject workers to the risk of falls. Furthermore, virtually any fall protection expert knows that the majority of fatal falls in the workplace could have been prevented.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is an agency of the federal government tasked with designing regulations and rules to protect workers. The American National Standards Institute, or ANSI, cannot issue legally binding regulations, but OSHA can, and OSHA frequently adopts or incorporates ANSI standards. Therefore, even if OSHA has not yet adopted every single aspect of the ANSI fall protection standards, businesses need to pay careful attention to them.
The ANSI Z350 standards are much more current; the OSHA fall protection regulations have not been significantly amended or revised since the 1990s. The fall protection industry has taken some major strides since then, not only in terms of technology and materials, but also in terms of ergonomics and human behavior. The new ANSI standards incorporate the latest knowledge on personal fall-arrest systems, but offers addition guidance on employer-managed fall protection programs, restraint devices and rescue. The ANSI Z350 standards should be viewed as an expansion of existing guidelines rather than a replacement.
Naturally, fall abatement is an important part of the ANSI standards. However, abatement alone is insufficient to reduce the overall risks that a company — and its employees — can face. The new standards address all elements of a safety program aimed at improving the safety of employees working at heights. As such, businesses can use the guidelines to create a complete fall-protection program or determine whether individual aspects in a current program need to be improved.
For example, employers can use the detailed guidelines contained in the standard’s procedures section to identify and prioritize fall hazards through the use of surveys. Such information can help budget appropriately. The standards also guide employers on training managers and employees, defining duties, writing policy and investigating incidents. Much information is provided on controlling and eliminating fall hazards. Rescue procedures and determining the effectiveness of the program are covered as well.
The ANSI standards also cover a number of special-interest topics. For example, ballasted style anchors, which are used on roofs that lack anything that can be used as an anchor, are examined to provide guidance on evaluating whether they are suitable for fall protection in a given situation. Clearances and multiple worker falls are also addressed.
Even businesses who believe the company’s current fall-protection program is more than adequate need to stay up-to-date on ANSI standards. For example, fall-arrest systems are often comprised of individual components, such as snap-hooks, lanyards, D-rings and harnesses. Although the new standards cover connectors, anchorage connectors will be addressed in a separate ANSI standard. The latest standards also include changes to some component specification, such as changing the required snap-hook gate strength from 350 pounds for side load and 220 pounds for front load to 3,600 pounds for each.
Businesses lacking an effective fall-protection program could incur potential liability that might severely impact profits. However, most managers are even more concerned about preventing needless deaths or severe injuries to their employees. Others fear the negative publicity that could result from a fall fatality. Whatever the motive, the new ANSI guidelines can help companies initiate or improve a program to address far more than just fall abatement.