Effective Fall Arrest Starts With Proper Anchorage
Part 1 of a 4-part deep-dive series on The ABCDs of Fall Protection
A is for Anchor: The Root of Effective Fall Arrest
Welcome to the first of our four-part series on the ABCD’s of Fall Arrest. The new normal of physical distancing requires workers to be more self-aware of important safety procedures. One example is the way workers pre-check their Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS). Gearing up before a job used to be a group activity. Crew mates had the opportunity to work as a team to ensure procedures were followed. Now workers often find themselves working on their own or separated from their crew mates.
Now might be a good time for safety directors to review their PFAS training approaches to include checks that are directed to solo workers. OSHA requires that workers using PFAS’s must be properly trained, verifying that each user understands how fall protection is a system of interworking devices, each with its own special inspection requirements. We’ll dive into the wearable aspects of fall arrest systems in subsequent articles. This article will focus on the where, and how, these systems are anchored.
What is a PFAS anchor?
OSHA defines anchorage as a fixed and secured point of attachment for lifelines, lanyards, or deceleration devices. Anchorages may be certified, designed or engineered on site as part of a fall protection program. Thus anchorage should be the starting point of the safety precheck.
Certified or non-certified
Certified anchorages are commonly found as permanent fixtures on structures. These anchors are identified by a qualified person, such as an engineer or experienced design professional. To be certified, the part of the building upon which it is being affixed needs to be able to support the weight of the fall protection system and to support the potential forces exerted by a falling worker. Certified anchorages should be identified with paint or special markings and kept on a site location list.
Non-certified anchorages are typically are used for temporary solutions. Competent persons, as defined by OSHA, use a visual inspection procedure to select locations. During their inspection, they must visually inspect the location and decide whether or not that area is capable of supporting 5,000 pounds or other supporting weight depending on the category of anchorage. (A rough rule-of-thumb is whether the anchor location can support a full-sized pick-up truck.) Non-certified anchorages are commonly beams, trusses or other suitably strong structures.
Looking for the right point
The selection of an anchor point must be a planned procedure that could require a periodic review. Jobsite conditions and work positions change daily. There are at least three considerations when inspecting for an anchor position – location, load capacity, and application.
Anchor points must be free of obstructions from other work activities. There must be enough open space to allow free movement of attachments as workers perform their duties. On some installations, workers may position directional barriers and/or signage to restrict access to this open space.
The selection of an anchor location must be independent of any anchorage being used to support scaffolds, walkways or suspend platforms. Anchor locations must be on structural members, not standpipes, vents, other piping systems and electrical conduit.
Another location consideration is the potential fall distance, the distance between the work area and the next level or obstruction. OSHA regulations require that PFAS’s must be rigged such that a worker can neither free fall more than 6 feet nor contact any lower level. The selected anchor position must accommodate any worker movement during the shift and may require anchor repositioning or the use of a different lanyard length.
The actual fall distance is determined by the relationship of the anchorage point’s elevation with the wearer’s harness D-Ring. If the anchor is located at, or higher than the D-Ring, the fall distance is the lanyard’s length plus the activated portion of the lanyard’s shock. If the anchorage point is lower than the D-Ring, the fall distance is added to the additional distance from the D-Ring to the lower anchorage point.
Each anchorage point must be capable of supporting 5,000 lbs (22.2kN), per each attached worker. Some selection consideration might require an engineering assessment as to whether load capacity of the structure member onto which the anchor may be placed meets this OSHA requirement.
Manufacturers offer a wide range of anchorages designed for all types of applications. The competent person selects the device based upon what type of fall protection system will be used and to what they need to connect to.
Permanent anchors are devices fabricated with corrosion-resistant materials, such as galvanized or stainless steel, and are designed to be left in place for future use. These devices are commonly selected for certified anchorages affixed to structures. The main types of permanent anchors are used for roof maintenance and window washing operations.
Fixed point anchors are often used during construction or repair activities. These devices are designed to be installed on corrugated steel decks, concrete floors, parapets, and roofs. There are even specialty fixed point anchors for attachment to poles, leading edges and roof peaks.
Mobile point anchors enable workers to reposition the anchor point as they work; many of these units feature beam and trolley systems.
Anchorage connectors are devices with which workers attach their personal fall arrest system to an anchorage. Common connectors include anchor slings, roof anchors, beam clamps, rail sliders, trolleys, eyebolts and shepherd hooks. The most versatile anchorage connector features a wrap-around choker design. Workers can these devices to a wide range of structural shapes and cross-section dimensions. Another widely used connector is the D-Ring connector, which a worker can bolt or weld easily to a steel beam.
Prior to each use, workers should perform an inspection of the anchor and anchorage connector. If the device looks defective during the inspection, the device should be immediately removed from service and destroyed. Common defects to look for include evidence of corrosion, chemical degradation, any non-manufacturer alterations, or extreme wear.
Ready for the next step?
When anchorage is properly identified, and anchor connectors are inspected and ready for use, workers can begin the next step in their precheck for the use of a personal fall arrest system.