ANSI and OSHA Standards for Self-Retracting Lifelines
A self-retracting device, also know as a self-retracting lifeline or SRL, is the part of a fall protection system that connects a worker to an anchor point. They are vital to the safety of workers who use them, so there are many regulations and requirements regarding their functionality.
When it comes to fall protection and worker safety, ANSI and OSHA are the two main regulating bodies in the US. While OSHA is a government administration with access to research and information on how to best prevent workplace incidents, ANSI is a private, non-profit organization that oversees standards development. This development process is completed by industry leaders and experts with experience and connections in the industries they help to regulate.
One of the most important differences between OSHA and ANSI is that OSHA standards are Federal Law requirements, but ANSI standards are technically “voluntary.” Although ANSI standards are considered voluntary, they are still very important, and safety professionals take them very seriously. Because these two organizations are different, they often have different approaches to worker safety. The standards they develop often have slight differences, so it is useful to be familiar with both to have the most thorough understanding of any safety matter.
The ANSI standards for fall protection can be found in ANSI Z359. In ANSI Z359.0, a self-retracting device is defined as a “device that contains a drum-wound line that automatically locks at the onset of a fall to arrest the user, but that pays out from and automatically retracts onto the drum during normal movement of the person to whom the line is attached. After onset of a fall, the device automatically locks the drum and arrests the fall.”
With that definition established, ANSI Z359.14 provides all of the criteria an SRL must meet to be considered safe. It divides SRLs into two classes: class A and class B, and these classes define the distance an SRL can unwind before it stops and how much force can be applied to the worker using the SRL.
Class A SRLs must have a maximum arrest distance of 24 inches. Class A SRLs must not exceed a peak arresting force of 1,800 pounds, and they are limited to an average arresting force of no more than 1,350 pounds.
Class B SRLs allow a greater maximum arrest distance at 54 inches. With a greater arrest distance, Class B SRLs are limited to an average arresting force of no more than 900 pounds. The maximum peak arresting force is the same as Class A at 1,800 pounds.
To make sure an SRL won’t fail when it needs to arrest a fall, ANSI also provides additional functional requirements, as well as tests to ensure that SRLs meet those requirements. One of those requirements is a tensile strength of 3,000 pounds, and ANSI Z359.14 provides guidelines for testing.
Other requirements and testing guidelines include performance testing, which ensures that an SRL meets the correct stopping distance, and dynamic testing, which tests the strength of the lifeline under deceleration. There are also tests and requirements for environmental performance in hot, cold, and wet conditions; hardware components; retraction force; the locking function; the fall indicator; and more.
Finally, ANSI provides detailed guidelines for inspecting an SRL. The guidelines state how frequently an SRL should be inspected, who should perform the inspections, and what to look for to pass or fail an SRL during inspection.
OSHA provides a similar definition of an SRL. OSHA 1910.140(b) defines a self-retracting lifeline/lanyard as “a deceleration device containing a drum-wound line that can be slowly extracted from, or retracted onto, the drum under slight tension during normal employee movement, and which, after onset of a fall, automatically locks the drum and arrests the fall.”
OSHA also provides performance requirements for SRLs. OSHA 1910.140 covers the requirements and standards for personal fall protection systems. Unlike ANSI, OSHA does not divide SRLs into classes. Instead, it gives minimum and maximum requirements that all SRLs must meet.
OSHA 1910.140(d)(1) lays out some of the base requirements for an SRL. This standard limits the maximum arresting force on a worker to 1,800 pounds and the maximum deceleration distance to 3.5 feet. It also states that the system must be able to support a worker in a fall event without making contact with the employee’s neck and chin area.
Beyond these requirements, the OSHA standards are less detailed than the ANSI standards, but there are additional requirements. Self-retracting lifelines and lanyards that limit free fall distance to two feet must sustain a tensile load of 3,000 pounds at full extension (1910.140(c)(5)), but if they do not limit free fall distance to two feet, they must sustain a load of 5,000 pounds at full extension (1926.502(d)(12)).
D-rings, snaphooks, and carabiners must also sustain a tensile load of 5,000 pounds (1910.140(c)(7)), and they must be proof tested to a minimum tensile load of 3,600 pounds without cracking, breaking, or incurring permanent deformation. Finally, Personal Fall Arrest systems, which may utilize SRLs, are also required to limit free fall to six feet in a fall event (1910.140(d)(2)(ii)).
When you compare the specifications and requirements in OSHA and ANSI, the ANSI performance and testing requirements are generally stricter and more specific. OSHA is a government organization, and the regulations are legally mandated. However, ANSI standards are not created by the government, and they are considered voluntary.
Because ANSI standards are considered voluntary, someone might think it’s not necessary to adhere to them and simply meet the OSHA requirements. But there is another thing to keep in mind. OSHA’s General Duty Clause states that “each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
Under this General Duty Clause, OSHA can require compliance with nationally recognized safety standards, because they address “recognized hazards.” In fact, OSHA frequently cites both ANSI Z359 for fall protection and NFPA 79, the National Electric Code, for electrical safety. Because this clause incorporates these nationally recognized standards, they shouldn’t be considered alternate or optional quality standards, but rather as supplemental standards for compliance with OSHA.
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