Does ANSI Certify Fall Protection Equipment?

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Does ANSI Certify Fall Protection Equipment?

fall_protection_equipmentThe sale of fall protection equipment is a multibillion-dollar industry. This has led to some tremendous advancements in fall protection technology, but it has also led to a feeding frenzy for equipment manufacturers—some good, some not so good. As an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited testing laboratory, Gravitec Systems Inc. has seen firsthand the failures of equipment bearing the ANSI Z359 marking. These failures no doubt would have caused serious injury or fatalities to workers at heights. I’m not speaking of one-off anomalies, but complete product lines that have been manufactured incorrectly and would result in failure or maximum arrest forces far beyond the legal limit of 1,800 lb. Yes, all this from equipment bearing an ANSI label.

How could that be? Doesn’t ANSI certify the equipment? Contrary to popular belief, ANSI does not certify fall protection equipment. A label stating that the equipment meets an ANSI standard is often misinterpreted to mean that ANSI has tested, approved or certified that piece of equipment. Rather, it is the manufacturers that are required to test equipment to the requirements of the applicable standard and label the equipment accordingly.

To help manufacturers and bring uniformity to the testing of fall protection products, ANSI has approved ANSI/ASSE Z359.7, Qualification and Verification Testing of Fall Protection Products. ASSE provides this downloadable for free http://www.asse.org/ansi/asse-z359-7-2011-qualification-and-verification-testing-of-fall-protection-products/. The standard works to bring standardization to conformance testing of fall protection products, and it aims to reduce questionable interpretations of how equipment is tested, how data are collected, how frequently a product is tested and how test results are provided to purchasers. Under this standard, equipment manufactured and bearing the ANSI label are tested in an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited laboratory. 

Becoming an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited testing facility is not easy. These facilities must undergo annual audits to retain accreditation and ensure competency of testing protocols. This requirement greatly improves the consistency and quality of fall protection equipment testing and is a giant leap forward in improving worker safety at heights. Currently, purchasers of fall protection equipment who are victims of inaccurate testing or questionable interpretations of ANSI standards have no recourse. By requiring the use of an ISO/IEC 17025 laboratory, users will have access to test results as well as a methodology to question the laboratory through the accrediting body.

The standard empowers consumers to ask for testing certificates to verify that their equipment has been properly tested. Therefore, manufacturers must maintain documentation verifying that equipment bearing the ANSI Z359 marking has been tested by an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited laboratory. Although the standard will not prevent counterfeit or fraudulent claims, it will provide consumers an avenue to verify the testing claims and conformance of fall protection products to applicable ANSI standards. By verifying testing, users can be confident that their equipment has been tested in an ISO/IEC 17025 lab.

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To consistently and continually strive to protect workers at heights, standards and requirements must be regularly reviewed and improved. Although the manufacturer should ensure that it is labeling and testing to the current standard, ultimately it is incumbent upon consumers to ensure that the equipment they are using has been tested to the most current Z359 standard.

Customers must make sure their equipment is compliant with the most current standards. They can achieve this by taking four steps:

  1. Buy the code.
  2. Reference the code.
  3. Ask questions of their equipment supplier.
  4. Require verification of compliance.

Protecting workers requires the combined commitment of manufactures standards advocates and equipment users who demand stringent requirements. With publication of ANSI Z359.7, consumers of fall protection equipment can now play a vital role in incentivizing manufacturers to test their equipment to the toughest standards

Randall Wingfield is extensively involved in the continuing development of national standards for fall protection equipment and training. He chairs the ANSI Z359 Committee and is president of Gravitec Systems Inc., an engineering and training company specializing in fall protection and rescue. Wingfield is an associate member of ASSE’s Puget Sound Chapter, as well as a board member and past president of International Society for Fall Protection.

 
 

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