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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

Let’s all take a moment for a little thought experiment. For the next ten seconds, close your eyes and think as hard as you can about the following word: anchor. No tricks and no wrong answers, just one little word. Think of as many ideas or associations as you can. Are you ready? We’ll be here when you get back.

Go!

 Arrgg!

So, what did you come up with? If you immediately went nautical, don’t worry, it’s fair to say that we’ve all been sufficiently inundated with Popeye cartoons and Titanic documentaries to make that pretty much unavoidable. But hopefully after those first few seconds of spinach and icebergs your mind let you move forward.

Of course, we’re talking about anchors in the context of fall protection. For those well-versed in fall protection an anchor can seem as simple as a Saturday morning cartoon, but beware, because just like the iceberg there’s much more there than meets the eye. And hey, that just happens to be the focus for this quarter’s What’s Wrong with This Picture.

Let’s take a look! Ask yourself, is there an anchor here?

 

ww tie off system.jpg

 

Know Thy Anchor


Before we get to the heart of the matter, let’s take one second to define “anchor” in comparison to an “anchorage connector.” An anchor is the physical structure that absorbs the load of a fall, while the anchorage connector is what attaches to the structure to provide a safe tie-off point for a worker. An anchorage connector will always require an anchor to function properly, and in most cases the opposite is true as well. There are some limited instances where an anchorage connector is not required, such as connecting to a rebar column (the anchor) with a Rebar Positioning Device, but the applications that will require both an anchor and an anchorage connector vastly outweigh those that rely on an anchor alone.

Getting back to our picture, let’s start with a few observations. The first thing that stands out is that there are four separate ropes attached to the stairs/landing, which is functioning as our anchor. And yes, we absolutely have an anchor here. Provided that the stairs/landing are rated to withstand a minimum 5,000 lb. load per personal fall arrest system (PFAS) attached, then it can certainly function as a fall protection anchor point.

As we noted, there are four ropes connected here, meaning we’re now talking about a minimum 20,000 lb. required strength, which seemingly makes it unlikely that the anchor is actually suitable to be used as shown, but for the sake of conversation we’ll assume that it does meet this minimum requirement.

The Missing Link

Now, of course what we’re missing here are anchorage connectors. Generally speaking, it is not permitted to tie knots in ropes used for fall protection except at the very end of the lifeline, which means that securing a rope by tying it to the anchor is not allowed. Knots can significantly diminish the strength of a rope and, no matter how well tied, introduce a greater risk for accidental detachment when compared to the standard snap hook to D-ring connection.

The solution here is as simple as securing Cross Arm Straps to the structure and using them in combination with vertical lifelines with the proper connector ends. Now we have a compatible anchorage connector and a compatible connection, and we’re ready to get to work.

One last wrinkle to address here, though, is the actual work being done outside of the frame. We’ve so far assumed that there are four independent systems here. In window washing applications, however, two independent ropes are required for each worker, one for fall protection and one to secure the bosun chair and other equipment. If we are indeed looking at window washing tie-off points, that suddenly transitions us from talking about the potential absorption of a fall protection load to the continuous support of a suspended worker.

Keeping You In Suspension

In fall protection, the structure is only exposed to significant forces in the event of a fall. For rigging or suspended maintenance, it must both support a small continuous load as well as the forces of a fall, should one occur. This changes the game on us somewhat, since we find that the vast majority of fall protection anchorage connectors are not rated for use in rigging/suspension, due to the potential for long-term exposure to consistent loading to result in damage or diminished strength. That takes our Cross Arm Strap option off the table. Anchorage connectors specifically rated for rigging/suspension, such as Guardian’s S-Anchor, must be used instead. Our structural anchor, too, must then also be specifically rated for use in these applications. Whether used in fall protection or rigging/suspension, anchorage connectors must meet the same minimum 5,000 lb. strength requirement, but the latter group must be certified by a Qualified Person and must not experience any deformation when exposed to proof loads of 2,500 lbs.

Coming back to our picture one last time, what do we think now? Do we have an anchor suited for use in either fall protection or suspension?

We know that the manner in which the ropes are secured to the structure is not correct, but what about the structure itself? As a fall protection manufacturer looking at this picture on a screen, the answer is quite simple: we don’t have enough information.

Just as we intensively design and test our products to ensure they are of sufficient strength, so too does a building architect or structural engineer design and calculate how every component of a building is constructed. Determining structural strength, and the corresponding fall protection applications in which the structure can be used, is therefore ultimately the responsibility of a Qualified Person in fall protection.

A Qualified Person is someone with sufficient education and professional experience to analyze and evaluate complete fall protection systems within the context of all applicable laws and regulations, and at the end of the day they will need to decide if our structural anchor will perform how we need it to.

Guardian offers structural assessment services, in which we send a Qualified Person out to the site to conduct an analysis, but absent that we would not have the required information to offer anything other than an opinion (one very much like this article in fact, but maybe without the Popeye references). But if asked for an opinion, it’s safe to assume that this picture doesn’t inspire us with the confidence to go sailing on a cold, foggy night.