Blog Post #264 – Alert Targets Fall System

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada Magazine

A new MOL hazard alert is cautioning workers and employers about the potential dangers of a particular fall protection system.

The Class Frontal-Fixed Rail Ladder (FRL) fall protection system, which is certified to Canadian Standards Association International (CSA) standard Z259.2.1- 98, “Fall Arresters, Vertical Lifelines and Rails,” is a “permanently installed metal rail anchoring system used with an automatic fall-arresting device called the trolley (carriage),” notes the ministry alert.

The Class FRL “may not adequately protect workers who fall backward while connected to a vertical rail,” the MOL warns. “Leaning back pulls the trolley’s internal braking system off the rail, allowing the trolley to slide down the rail. If a worker falls backwards (as opposed to straight down or inwards) the trolley may not lock, allowing a worker to fall.”

These systems are typically installed on communication towers, chimneys, buildings and water towers, says Kent Pengelly, a manager of corporate integrity investigations for the CSA. Certified manufacturers whose products might be affected include Mine Safety Appliances Company, North Safety Products Ltd., Sperian Fall Protection, Trylon TSF Inc., and Prestige Telecom, Pengelly reports.

Deficiencies came to light when a worker was injured in a 20-metre fall from a fixed ladder on a tower while wearing a Class FRL system, the alert states.

Pengelly cites inappropriate use of the fall arrester as a main issue of concern. “Should the worker utilize the device incorrectly, such as using a work-in-place lanyard that is longer than the 200 millimetres connecting that is allowed, the extended length could potentially allow them to fall backwards significantly beyond their reach or the ability to have their feet contact the rail,” he says. “This can cause the braking mechanism to disengage and then a free-fall action can possibly occur.”

Stephen Pike, training director for Hightek Fall Protection in St. John’s, says that despite suggestions the system can still be used if double lanyards are employed as a fail-safe, employers should take these systems out of commission.

“The last thing we would recommend is that the owner of the system either continues to use the rail system, or even worse, goes out and installs a ladder cage-based safety system,” Pike says. “Those have been proven to be statistically as useless, or even more useless, as those rails for fall protection.” It is best to use a cable-based system, he argues.

Pengelly reports that new requirements have been drafted and are under review by the CSA’s technical committee on fall protection. Once approved, the vetted requirements will be announced and all affected products will be retested.

My opinion

It does not happen often that a piece of equipment that is certified to a CSA standard fails to do so and the MOL has to step in and send out a hazard alert over some sort of accident or incident.

In this case, the manufacturers did not engineer this properly and all scenarios tested. The mechanism must be able to work in all kinds of conditions. A worker fell in a scenario that was NOT tested and the trolley appeared not to work. “Leaning back pulls the trolley’s internal braking system off the rail, allowing the trolley to possible slide down the rail.”

It has been my experience that most companies in the health and safety fields commit to exhaustive studies and testing to provide top-line equipment. I was shocked to see this happen in the ‘Fall Protection’ field. The last time I remember a ‘Fall Protection’ concern was after an accident with a ‘Shepherd’s Hook’. An employee fell to his death using this type of device and the MOL sent out an alert letting everyone know that they were now under suspension. This happened almost 3 years ago.

As you can see, the issues for care in the workplace and for standards for the safety equipment being used is kept at such a high standard that only an accident would change the course and force the MOL to intercede.

I have the utmost respect for the manufacturers listed above. This particular industry has elevated safety to new levels. As an example, the ‘shock absorbers’ or ‘fall limiters’ engage at about 900 pounds of force. The governmental standard is about 1800 pounds of force, twice the industry standard. You can see that the manufacturers in the ‘Fall Protection’ industry take safety seriously. This issue for this article, does not paint a terrible picture for the industry and is not indicative of the effort they put in to meeting any and all standards.

Remember — In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Fall Protection’ and Working at Heights’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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