By Jo Bailey
New standards for height safety equipment are a work-in-progress, as new technology introduced over the last few years has significantly changed the industry.
“Some of our current standards are now pretty old and haven’t been updated until now due to costs. At the moment the AS/NZ Standards Committee has started a new project to update the current standards for harnesses, lanyards, rails, lifelines and devices, probably under a new name, Fall Protection Standards,” says Doug Carson, who is a founder and current member of the Industrial Rope Access Association of New Zealand. He has been its rep on the Standards Board for 19 years, and has been the National Evaluator for scaffolding, rigging and rope access.
He says the Standards Committee is also talking about equipment specified for work positioning and restraint systems, which are designed to prevent people getting to the edge when working at height.
“These systems have been a major thrust of manufacturers’ technological developments over the last 20 years, but are not necessarily reflected in the AS/NZ standards, many of which will become obsolete as they are superseded by the newer technologies.”
These days there are many products sold in New Zealand, which are benchmarked against international standards, particularly the European standards, which are regularly updated.
“As a standards organisation we need to recognise other standards for certain products such as ropes, carabiners, descenders, and back up gadgets, and are constantly deliberating about what each does and whether it meets a suitable specification.”
Doug says generally there is a drive to harmonise the various standards bodies towards the same outcomes for the range of equipment serving the height safety sector.
“Ultimately height safety equipment should firstly prevent people from getting to a place where they can fall. However if they do fall, the equipment must provide a gentle capture at the end of the line so any event is not only survivable, but will have a low impact on the body and brain.”
The use of fit-for-purpose safety helmets when working at height is another critical issue that needs to be addressed in New Zealand, says Doug.
“People seem to think nothing of spending $250 for a pair of steel capped boots to protect their toes, but think it is expensive if we suggest they spend $150 on a helmet to protect their head? I think there should be a rearrangement of priorities.”
Even a fall from low levels such as a truck deck or ladder can result in serious injury or even death if a person was to land on their head on concrete.
The AS/NZ Standard 1801 on occupational protective helmets was written nearly 20 years ago in 1997, and as far as the construction sector goes, only sets out requirements for protecting people working on the ground from falling objects.
Under the newer European standards (EN14052 and EN12492), workers at height must wear a helmet derived from the likes of mountaineering where the user is the falling object.
“These sorts of high performance, industry standard safety helmets need to be mandatory for height work to ensure the person inside the helmet has the expectation of a better outcome if they do fall. The number of deaths and injuries could be vastly reduced.”