Fall restraint vs. fall arrest – different labelling for different situations

Planned changes to AS/NZS 1891.4 provide essential clarification workers need to use fall arrest, rather than restraint, equipment in every situation where there is a risk of a fall. Gordon Cadzow* reports.

Planned changes to AS/NZS 1891.4 provide essential clarification workers need to use fall arrest, rather than restraint, equipment in every situation where there is a risk of a fall. Gordon Cadzow* reports.

PROPOSED revisions to the existing AS/NZS 1891.4, relating to the Selection, Use and Maintenance of industrial fall protection equipment, are currently out as a Draft for Comment.

These changes provide essential clarification that workers need to use fall arrest, rather than restraint, equipment in each and every situation where there is a risk of a fall.

The Fall Prevention Manufacturers Association (FPMA) fully supports the application of the Standards as providing clarification to both manufacturers and users.

FPMA’s chairman, Michael Biddle, says the Standard is regarded as mandating the highest manufacturing and user standards in the world.

“That said, the Standards Committee continues to review and update the standard to take account of new information, technology, manufacturing and testing methods,” Biddle said.

AS/NZS 1891.1 (2007) Industrial fall arrest systems and devices/Harnesses and ancillary equipment

Considerable work has already been undertaken by the Standards Committee leading up to the publishing of a major revision to the above Standard, which relates to the design, manufacture and testing standard for Fall Arrest equipment used by manufacturers conforming to Australian Standards.

Three of the major changes were:

* The use of belts was removed from the standard with only full body or lower body harnesses (newly introduced) specified for potential fall purposes. The FPMA totally opposed the introduction of lower body harnesses and so in acknowledgement to this, the preface to the Standard indicates that “future editions of this Standard may not specify these harnesses as suitable for arresting a free fall”.

* All restraint equipment, belts and lines were deleted from the Standard.

* Each full body harness or lower body harness must have at least one centre frontal attachment point that is tested for free fall arrest.

Draft for Public Comment – AS/NZS 1891.4 – Selection, Use and Maintenance

This Standard provides guidelines to those involved in managing risks associated with work at height, or those actually working at height.

The revision was designed to reflect the changes in AS/NZS1891.1 (2007) – including the need to remove the previously approved use of belts and restraint rated equipment.

This has caused great discussion in fall protection circles on the various interpretations of fall arrest and fall restraint. The FPMA believes the correct answer is clear.

This draft continues to promote the use of restraint as a safe method of work – but mandates that fall arrest rated equipment should be used in such situations. The draft standard defines restraint in two categories:

* Total Restraint – Equipment operators with personal fall arrest equipment which will not allow them to reach a point where a fall is possible.

* Restraint Technique – Equipment operators with personal fall arrest equipment which they can adjust as necessary to prevent them reaching a point where a fall is possible.

In other words, workers need to use fall arrest, rather than restraint, equipment in every situation where there is a risk of a fall.

Under Total Restraint and Restraint Technique there is also the requirement to provide visually demarcated exclusion areas to inhibit access to fall risk locations together with appropriate policing.

Harness requirements for restraint are further defined in Table 2.1 as: Restraint – A fall is not possible; Total restraint – Full Body or Lower Body harness; and Restraint Technique – Full body harness.

The Need to Remove Restraint Products

There are many reasons why the draft standard has taken this position, see below, but first and foremost it should be understood that the Standard aims to achieve the maximum level of personal safety that a worker can attain.

1. Let it be understood that nobody goes to work planning a fall: falls are usually accidents resulting from some sort of miscalculation. Accidents cannot be eliminated by decree. If we could rely on such a philosophy, we would not, for example, need machine guards – merely a notice saying “please don’t touch”.

2. Even people working in restraint can be subject to unforseen accidents or unplanned activity. The reason they would be in restraint equipment in the first place is because a height safety risk had been identified.

Once they are in free fall as a result of an accident, it is too late to upgrade the equipment being worn. Restraint equipment is not capable of withstanding the forces generated in arresting a fall.

3. If two classes of similar looking equipment are available to people who need to work at height, there is a significant possibility of the lower rated restraint equipment being mistakenly used in fall arrest situations. This is adding additional and unnecessary risk to an already high risk activity.

Even if a separate “Restraint Standard” were to be introduced, this risk would still be significant. The FPMA would again vigorously oppose any such introduction.

4. The AS/NZS 1891 Industrial Fall Arrest suite of standards is written to provide the best fall protection for people in an elevated environment, with the ultimate aim of any Standard being to provide a basis for the development of site specific work practices.

It is not practical, nor will it lead to a greater level of safety for specific industries (such as tourism) to be exempted from the Standard, unless there is a compelling argument that adopting the procedures of the Standard would create a more hazardous situation.

5. Working at height, even if only a few metres off the ground, is a realistic work situation across a wide range of industries. Falls from vehicles are a constant problem, with on average, a driver falling off a truck every two months. Each situation needs to address its own relevant safeguards, such as overhead harnesses and tarp spreaders, but ultimately if safety equipment is too hard to use, it’s not going to work. This is why the Standards need to clear and concise.

* Gordon Cadzow is Secretary of the FPMA of Australia, which comprises all leading Australian companies in the design and manufacture of fall protection equipment. This professional association has strongly supported the tightening of the standards surrounding the selection, use and maintenance of height safety equipment. For further information visit www.fpma.com.au, or email info@fpma.com.au.