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Connecting with Personal Fall Arrest Systems

Tim Accursi is chair of the Z359.12 subcommittee, which oversees the new standard, “Connecting Components for Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS)” (ANSI/ASSE Z359.12-2009). In this interview, Accursi provides an overview of the Z359.12 standard and its development.

Please provide a brief description of your professional background and of your position with PeakWorks.

I spent the last 17 years as the product integrity manager for a Canadian fall protection component design and manufacturing company. I was involved with design, manufacturing, quality and testing of fall protection hardware. My hardware knowledge has given me good standing within the fall protection community, thus providing me the opportunity to be subcommittee chair of the ANSI/ASSE Z359.12 and CSA Z259.12 hardware committees.

I am co-founder of PeakWorks, a new company in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada that has combined product solutions with cleaning, inspection and compliance services.

You are chair of the Z359.12 subcommittee, which oversees the new standard, “Connecting Components for Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS)” (ANSI/ASSE Z359.12-2009). Why did you decide to get involved in the Z359.12 subcommittee?

I felt that my years of experience and knowledge within the hardware side of the business could be an asset within hardware standards development.

The Z359.12 standard establishes requirements for the performance, design, marking, qualification, test methods and removal from service of connectors. What is a connector, and how does it function in a PFAS?

By definition, a connector is “a component or element that is used to couple parts of the system together.” Connectors are frequently referred to as hardware. They can be hooks or carabiners used for connecting a lanyard to a harness or a lanyard to an anchorage point. They may be buckles used in a harness for adjustment of size or disconnecting for harness removal. They are the metal parts of the system as opposed to the soft parts like webbing.

How did the Z359.12 subcommittee develop the requirements for connector components and elements? For example, what criteria and/or methodologies were used to determine tensile loads?

Requirements for connector components have evolved over many years to help promote a safer end product.  The Z359.12 subcommittee took the existing hardware requirements from the standard, “Safety Requirements for Personal Fall Arrest Systems, Subsystems and Components” (ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2007), which was a revision of the Z359.1-1992 standard, and fine-tuned some of the testing requirements to better represent the end use of the product. The 5,000-pound tensile load for hardware was derived during the development of the initial ANSI standard many years ago and was based on forces the body could survive during a fall combined with a safety factor.

The Z359.12 standard outlines requirements for qualification testing. Do manufacturers typically test their connector products in-house or do they use outside testing facilities? What happens to the test specimens after testing is completed?

Z359.12 is currently a voluntary standard. This means that third-party testing is not a requirement; however, companies may choose to have a certified third-party test house conduct certification testing. This third-party testing gives the product more market acceptance. Tested product is immediately destroyed so that it cannot be inadvertently used in the future.

What is a load cell, and how is it used in qualification testing?
A load cell is a force measuring device used during dynamic testing of product. Dynamic testing, otherwise known as drop testing, is just as it sounds—product is dropped over a certain distance to generate forces on the product.

Who determines free fall distance? What competencies must this person have? Should s/he be a professional engineer?

In the case of hardware, the free fall distance for the dynamic test is derived by the tower itself. Each tower has some variation in it when it comes to resultant forces so the drop height is predetermined through trial and error. A 220-pound weight is dropped over various heights to determine the specific height at which a 5,000-pound force is generated. When this free fall height is found, it is used during the dynamic testing phase for hardware.

During the development of the Z359.12 standard, did the subcommittee conduct its own testing of connectors?

Yes, as a product integrity manager at a hardware manufacturer, I was able to duplicate the proposed testing to ensure the relevancy and testability of proposed test methods.

What should PFAS users look for when inspecting connecting components?

Red rust on hardware is something that renders hardware as rejectable and should be monitored regularly. Sharp areas on hardware must be monitored, as they may cut webbing, which is reason for product rejection. Visual cracks in hardware are also a reason for rejection. If hardware is a snap hook or carabiner, the gate system must be checked to ensure that when opened, it closes and locks automatically.

Section 4.2.3 Dynamic Strength Testing includes requirements for weather conditioning and cold conditioning. What measures should be taken with respect to heat and duration of time?

With the types of products used in the market today, hot temperatures or at least the temperatures found in human environments, will not affect the product. Heat sufficient to cause strength issues with today’s products would create an environment beyond what a human could sustain.

How do Sections 4.2.1.1.1 through 4.2.1.3 relate to the Z359.1-2007 standard?

These sections outline the physical testing requirement of hardware. In addition, Section 4.2.2 is a physical testing requirement for hardware as part of the regular manufacturing/process. This 3,600-pound proof load test ensures the integrity of each and every 5,000-pound rated part.

What is the primary cause of injuries and accidents due to faulty or misused connectors? How does the Z359.12 standard address this?

In most cases, injuries are caused due to incompatible connections. Section 7.1 on equipment selection touches on this, but training plays a big role in fall protection. Many end users never see the standard and therefore need to rely on their employers to provide them with adequate training.

The Z359.12 standard requires connector markings to be in English. Will future versions of Z359.12 call for markings in other languages so the standard can be used in other countries?

English to some degree is considered a universal language, at least for North Americans. The problem with adding additional languages on the product is that there may not be room to include everything required. Z359.12 is a U.S. standard; other countries have their own standards and requirements.

What happens to connectors after they are removed from service? Are they disposed of or refurbished?

When removed from service, connectors are to be destroyed immediately.

What did you consider to be the most challenging part of the Z359.12 standard’s development process?

Looking for the perfect standard. If we were to analyze to the nth degree, the standard would have never been published. During the writing process, we realized that further additions and improvements would be made to the standard in the future, but it was important to get what we already had to print to benefit end users as soon as possible. Standard writing is a perpetual process—you improve one step at a time, every time.

How does the Z359.12 standard harmonize with the other standards included in the Z359 Fall Protection Code?

Z359.12 is an extension of the Z359.1 standard and of the Z359 Fall Protection Code. It took what was already in the Code and improved upon it. Rather than having hardware included with harness, lanyards, etc., Z359.12 addresses only hardware, which makes it easier for someone looking for design and testing information on hardware alone. Harmonization with other standards will still remain, as product standards requiring hardware information will reference the Z359.12 standard.

Tim Accursi
Tim Accursi has spent the last 17 years as a product integrity manager for a design and manufacturing company for fall protection hardware located in Canada.  In this capacity, Accursi was involved in the design, manufacturing, quality assurance and testing of fall protection hardware.

He is a member of the ANSI/ASSE Z359 Accredited Standards Committee for Fall Arrest/Protection and chair of the Z359.12 subcommittee for hardware.  He is also a member of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standards Committee for Fall Protection and chair of the Z259.12 subcommittee for hardware.  He is co-founder of PeakWorks, a new company in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada that has combined product solutions with services, such as cleaning, inspection and compliance services.

He is a graduate mechanical engineering technologist (Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology) and a qualified inspector of fall protection equipment (Sulowski Fall Protection Inc.).