New roof anchor and lifeline safety rules

THOUSANDS of safety anchors on Australian roofs must be replaced or recertified after revisions to the Australian Standard referenced in state fall protection laws were released.

THOUSANDS of safety anchors on Australian roofs must be replaced or recertified after revisions to the Australian Standard referenced in state fall protection laws were released in October 2009.

AS/NZS1891.4 covers equipment used in the workplace to prevent falls, like roof anchors and lifelines (static).

Fall prevention specialist Carl Sachs of Workplace Access & Safety explains there are several important amendments to AS/NZS1891.4, including a shift away from the concept of “total restraint”.

For many years, systems have been placarded as being suitable for fall restraint, also known as “work positioning”.

Sachs says the rating of roof anchorage points and static lines for total restraint were just 6kN because it was thought that a person would not fall and the anchor would not be subjected to high loads.

“The Australian Standards committee has recognised that there is a very high likelihood of misuse of a total restraint system, which would result in a fall.

“Using a system in total restraint requires a very high level of user skill, excellent communication and skilled supervision by the controller of the workplace,” Sach said.

“For this reason, fall restraint has been specifically removed from the scope of AS/NZS1891.4.

The standard then dedicates two pages in Appendix F to explaining what total restraint is and what can go wrong if you don’t get it right. Clearly, this is too hot for the standard to handle,” he said.

Consequently, the standard has increased the load rating for anchors from 6kN to 12kN if the fall distance is limited to 600mm and 15kN for up to 2m. For two users, the anchorage point must be rated at 21kN.

What you need to do

Sachs recommends workplaces check the compliance plate that should accompany roof safety anchors.

If the plate refers to total restraint, do a design check and make sure the layout of the anchors means that it is in fact suitable for “work positioning”.

If it is, have the compliance plate changed to reflect that it is for fall arrest.

“If you’re not sure, put an out of service tag on the compliance plate and don’t use it until you get it sorted out,” Sachs advises.

“Secondly, if your anchors are only rated to 6kN or not rated at all, you need to have them inspected and certified to the new load ratings. Again, if you’re not sure, simply tag them out of service.”

The changes to load ratings and the elimination of “total restraint” as a concept are among several other changes to AS/NZA1891.4.

Sachs says the other serious changes include new training requirements and the definition of the roles and responsibilities of people involved in everything from the design to use of fall arrest systems.

A new appendix dedicated to suspension trauma explains the potentially lethal syndrome, its causes and the need for a very speedy rescue.

Common questions

Q: Do I have to comply with the standard?

A: This Australian Standard is adopted in its entirety in NSW and SA as a Code of Practice. It is also referenced in Victorian regulations, mandating compliance, in NSW’s OHS Regulations 2001, in state legislation right around Australia, and is called up in the National Code of Practice for Fall Prevention.

“If you’ve got a very good reason not to comply with it, document the reason and back it up with a risk assessment, but otherwise you need to comply with it,” Sachs said.

“In any event, compliance with an Australian Standard can be used as a defence to a prosecution while a clear breach will certainly be used by the prosecution and the coroner against you.”

Q: The equipment complied with the standard at the time it was installed. Do I have to upgrade the system if I don’t renovate or alter the building?

A: Yes. A workplace has to comply with current OHS requirements irrespective of when it was built. Even a heritage-listed building has to meet today’s standards and AS1891 specifically states in clause 6.2.1 (f) that “architectural considerations shall not be allowed to compromise safety”.

OHS access is ongoing and workplace controllers must provide a safe workplace for today’s workers by today’s standards.

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