Providing Backdrop Rentals and Theatrical Equipment and Supplies

Safety is no accident

Fall Arresting (Protection) Systems

OSHA Requirements
The OSHA requirements for fall protection are scatted throughout the OSHA regulations.
The primary requirements for general industry are found in 29CFR1910.66 Appendix C and the for the construction industry in 29CFR1926 SUBPART M. There are other requirements in several locations in the OSHA regulations relating to specific trades. I am bringing these requirements together with the goal of providing a guideline for you to work with. In most cases the Construction Standards have become the DeFacto Standards.

In general fall protection is required whenever employees are exposed to falls from a height of 4' or more. There are different requirements for certain trades, but in my opinion these more liberal requirements are not usually applicable in the entertainment industry, except possibly during the setup of scenery. This applies not only to work at heights but also to work near excavations

In the event of a fall, the total fall is to be no more than 9-6”. Free fall distance can be no more than 6’ and the fall must be arrested in 3’-6” or less.

Maximum force experienced by the person falling, with a full body harness, is not to exceed 1800 lbs. and 900 lbs. for a belt. Subpart M assumes that fall protection is feasible and that the implementation of at least one of the fall protection systems mentioned in the standard will not create a greater hazard. The employer is required to prove that it is appropriate to implement alternate compliance standards.

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Employers are required to have a fall protection program. The requirements that must be met are:

      • A qualified person must develop the program.
      • The program must be written.
      • A copy of the program must be available at the work site
      • The program must include the plan for rescue after a fall
      • When conventional fall protection is not feasible, you must document how that conclusion was reached.
      • Emergency numbers are to be posted at the work site. (A general safety requirement)
      • When conventional fall protection is not used, areas must be identified and classified as controlled access zones.
      • ALL accidents and serious incidents (near accidents) must be investigated. Changes must be made to the fall protection program as necessary as a result of information learned in these investigations.

There are exceptions to these regulations (covered by other subparts):

      • Fall requirements for scaffolds (29CFR1926 Subpart L).
      • Derricks and cranes (29CFR1926 Subpart S).
      • Electric transmission and distribution (29CFR1926 Subpart V).
      • Stairways and ladders (29CFR1926 Subpart X).
      • Employees making inspections, investigations or assessments of existing conditions prior to the start and after the completion of work.

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Controlled Access Zone

An area where only certain work may occur without guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, or safety net systems. Access to the zone is controlled and a safety monitor is required.

When no alternate fall protection system has been implemented, the employer is required to implement a safety monitoring system. A competent person shall be appointed to monitor the safety of workers.

Safety Monitor

The Safety Monitor shall be:

      • Competent in the recognition of fall hazards
      • Capable of warning workers of fall hazard dangers and in detecting unsafe work practices
      • Is operating on the same walking/working surfaces as the workers and can see them
      • Close enough to work operations to communicate orally with workers and has NO other duties to distract from the monitoring function.
      • No worker, other than one covered by a fall protection plan, shall be allowed in an area where an employee is being protected by a safety monitoring system.

All workers in a controlled access shall be instructed to promptly comply with fall hazard warnings issued by a safety monitor.

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There are three major types of personal fall protection systems:

      • Personal fall arrest systems.
      • Positioning devices. For example - Window washers positioning systems.
      • Personal fall protection systems for climbing.
      • This discussion only covers the first type - Personal fall arrest systems.

Fall Arrest System

The parts of a fall arrest system include the following parts:

      • Anchorage.
      • Lifeline.
      • Fall arrester.
      • Lanyard.
      • Shock absorber. This may or may not be used.
      • Harness

OSHA requires the attachment point be rated for a minimum of 5,000 lbs. or be engineered.
When tying off a rope around an I-beam using a rated snap hook or around another support point using a knot, the rope may lose up to 50% of its strength due to the effect of the knot, type of connection, abrasion or all three.

When working from a boatswain’s chair, swing stage, or similar arrangement a lifeline should not be tied off to the same anchorage point as the chair, swing-stage or other apparatus. Anchorage points can and should be determined ONLY by persons specifically experienced and trained in determining a safe and legal anchorage.

While the 5,000 lbs. anchorage requirement may seem excessive, forces exceeding 3,000 lbs. are easily imposed on a lifeline by an average 220 lbs. person falling as little as 2’ without shock absorption or 6’ with shock absorption.

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10 Critical Requirements for an Anchor Point

The following is a MINIMAL 10-point checklist for an anchorage point:

      1. Height: Anchorage point must be at least at the height of the harness D-ring attachment point and compatible with the fall arrest equipment in use.
      2. Shape: Must be compatible with the attachment method under OSHA 1910.66 Appendix C test conditions.
      3. Strength: Minimum anchorage strength is 5000 lbs. or 3000 lbs. for self-retracting lanyards/lifelines or 2:1 design (safety) factor for engineered systems.
      4. Location: Must be located so that a swing fall will not cause an injury.
      5. Usage: Must meet the requirements of OSHA 1010.66 Appendix C and be used by one person for fall arrest purposes only, unless a documented, engineered system.
      6. Stability: Must not be able to come loose under any reasonably foreseeable condition of use. e.g. A lifeline looped over the end of a pipe might come off with vibration or movement.
      7. Independence: Must be separate from any part of the suspension or support system that may fail and for which the fall arrest system is the backup.
      8. Moving Protection: Must accommodate the ability to move on the job consistent with the requirements of 1910.66 Appendix C.
      9. Labeled: Must refer to a known engineering drawing for proper compatible equipment use and state that it is not to be used for any other purpose.
      10. Inspected: Must be initially and periodically checked by a qualified person for adequacy and condition.

It is estimated that 80% of all of the errors in the use of fall arrest equipment is due to the poor choice of an anchorage. The more that it is understood that simply being anchored to a structure is at the very least a critical error and potentially an enormous mistake, the closer we get to having good fall arrest systems.
It is vital to remember that an improperly chosen anchorage point can result in a fall up to TWICE the length of the lanyard.

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If the fall arrest system does not have a shock absorber, the elasticity of the lifeline will determine the distribution of the fall energy between the fall arrest system and the user.

      1. The more the line stretches, the more energy it absorbs, and the less energy there is available to injure the user.
      2. Manila rope is not to be used for use a lifeline. Only synthetic materials are allowed to be used in lifelines, lanyards and strength components of harnesses.
      3. OSHA requires vertical lifelines to have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 lbs. 5/8" nylon is frequently chosen as a lifeline. Use the line recommended by the manufacturer of your equipment and sold as a lifeline.
      4. The use of climbing ropes is not permitted unless specifically sold and labeled for use in workplace fall arrest systems.

Fall Arrestor
There are numerous models of fall arrestors. They differ in the type of lifeline they work with, the ability to follow vertical movement of the user, and their action before finally locking on the lifeline.

The action before locking usually involves some slipping down the lines with accompanying friction, which helps to dissipate some of the fall energy. The delay in locking lowers the deceleration rate of the fall and consequently lowers the magnitude of the arrest force.

Fall arrestors fall into three basic categories:

      • Inertial.
      • Friction.
      • Mechanical lever action.

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Lanyards that increase the users lateral freedom of movement and connect the fall arrester with the D-ring on the harness are generally not recommended for use in fall arrest systems using synthetic lifelines. The fall arrester may become positioned below the D-ring on the harness. This would allow the fall distance to be up to twice the lanyard length.

Greater fall distance means a greater arrest force. When lateral movement of the user is required due to the nature of the job, a self-reeling (retractable) lifeline should be considered.

A lanyard or shock absorber should not be attached between a harness and a deceleration device of the self-retracting type, without approval of the manufacturer of the self-retracting lifeline. Use of a lanyard with this type of a device may result in an additional free fall distance for which the system was not designed.

Shock Absorber
When using a wire rope as a lifeline a shock absorber is strongly recommended, and is required to reduce fall forces to the legal limits. The best known types are made of folded and stitched webbing or special fabric. In both types tearing the stitches or the fabric apart absorbs the shock. This absorbs a large part of the fall energy. Tests indicate that with these absorbers, the maximum arrest force was 40% to 60% of the same fall without the arrester.

The disadvantage of this type of arrester is the increase in duration of the shock as well as an increase in total length of the system by up to 4'. Shock absorbers may be used with other types of systems and system designs vary. Use only the type of equipment recommended by the system or equipment manufacturer and used only as recommended.

Shock absorbers should be attached to the harness D-ring. If located away from the harness, fouling of the lanyard could prevent the fall force from being applied to the sock absorber. Lanyards with shock absorbers built in are commonly available.

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Harnesses come in all designs and sizes. The two most common types are the “H” or parachute harnesses, and the crossover type harness. Some manufacturers now make a “seat” type harness similar to those worn by rock climbers.

The minimum requirement is a rear D-ring at shoulder height to attach to the fall arrest system. D-rings must have a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 lbs. and is proof tested to 3,600 lbs. without cracking, breaking or suffering permanent deformation. An adjustable D-ring is desirable.

You should also look for properly designed pelvic support. The sub-pelvic strap should create a seat under your buttocks rather than a strap that just connects the two thigh straps together. If you are purchasing your own, be sure to select one that is comfortable for you and allows unrestricted movement. Most women find the cross-over type more comfortable. The harness must at least be labeled as meeting the requirements of ANSI Z359.1

Proper adjustment of the harness is critical to providing protection in the case of a fall. You should always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper adjustment, connection and use of the harness.

Horizontal Lifelines
Horizontal lifelines allow horizontal movement along them, usually on a single level. Frequently they are designed to allow more than one user.

The parts used in horizontal lifelines are essentially the same as vertical systems. However, horizontal lifelines have additional special design considerations and should only be designed, installed, used and supervised by persons having the special knowledge and training required of this type of system. You should use only the equipment recommended by the system designer or manufacturer. There are currently no standards for horizontal lifelines. Again you should following the manufacturer’s recommendations for use of a horizontal lifeline.

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Some Recommendations and Requirements

      • Make sure you use the proper and compatible equipment for the job.
      • Use only equipment designed and sold for work place fall protection.
      • All persons using fall protection systems shall be trained in their use and records of the training kept.
      • Follow ALL manufacturers’ instructions.
      • Do not rig a system or use a system in a way that will allow you to free fall farther than 6'.
      • Do not rig a system or use a system in a way that will allow you to hit a level below the work level, regardless of length of fall.
      • Do NOT use lineman's pole straps as lanyards unless they have been designed for fall arrest.
      • Use the proper deceleration device with the correct body harness.
      • Window anchors are to be used ONLY for window cleaner's belts.
      • Do not use ladder hooks with D-rings or ANY system that allows a free fall of more than 2'.
      • Be sure snap hooks are designed to be used with the hardware they are attached to.
      • Do NOT attach two snap hooks to each other. This could result in rollout.
      • Do not use mismatched (incompatible) attachment (hooks, eyes, D-rings, etc.) equipment or points in order to avoid rollout.
      • All parts of the system must work properly with each other.
      • Your supervisor or the manufacturer MUST approve any substitution.
      • Fall protection equipment is to be used ONLY for worker fall protection.
      • Rock and recreational climbing equipment is for rock and recreational climbing only and NOT for worker fall protection.
      • Allow a maximum deceleration distance of 42" (3½’).
      • Any fall arrest system that has been subject to impact loading catching a fall) shall be immediately removed from service until it has been inspected by a “competent person” and found to be safe for use.

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Before You Start

      • Review work area for hazards.
      • Inspect all harnesses, lanyards, lifelines, snap hooks, and attachment point(s). Inspection should include, but is not limited to, the following:
            • Check all equipment for wear, damage, mold, mildew, or distortion.
            • Check that no straps are cut, broken, torn, or scraped.
            • Check for damage from acid, corrosives, or fire.
            • Hardware should have no cracks, burs, or sharp edges.
            • Snap hooks should close and lock tightly and locking device is working properly.
            • Buckles should work properly.
            • Check ropes for wear, broken fibers, pulled stitches, and discoloration.
            • Check to be sure lifeline anchors and mountings are not loose or damaged.
            • Any other checks required by the manufacturer of the equipment.
      • Harness should fit snugly.
      • A harness can be attached at ether in the center of the back at shoulder level or above the head.
      • Do not use a chest harness if there is any possibility of free fall.
      • Defective equipment is to be removed from service immediately.
      • Snap hooks:
            • Use only locking snap hooks
      • To avoid rollouts do not attach your hook to anything that could press it open. Do not attach two snap hooks to each other.
      • Unless you have locking hooks specifically designed for these connections, do not connect:
            • directly to a horizontal lifeline.
            • directly to webbing, rope or wire rope.
            • back to its own lanyard.
            • to a D-ring which has another snap hook or other connector attached to it.
            • to any object whose size or shape would allow the object to depress or break the snap hook keeper.

        Fall arrest systems are to be inspected before use for wear damage or other deterioration and repaired before use.

        Fall protection systems are to be used ONLY by trained personnel under the direction of persons with the knowledge and training to supervise this type of activity.

        Only equipment and systems designed for workplace fall arrest or prevention should be used for this purpose. This especially applies to carabinars as various models are made for both applications.

        Qualified Person
        A person who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training and experience, has successfully demonstrated his ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project. (29CFR1926.23(m))

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