OHS Code Explanation Guide

Published Date: July 01, 2009
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Part 9 Fall Protection

Section 147 Life safety rope

Subsection 147(1) Standards

This edition of the OHS Code marks the introduction of the term “life safety rope” as an alternative to the more familiar terms “vertical lifeline” (still used in some sections within the OHS Code) or “fall protection rope”. The new term reinforces the importance of the rope as a component of a fall protection system on which workers rely for their safety and perhaps their lives. The term is widely used by persons involved in rope rescue and industrial rope access activities.

For compliance purposes, NFPA- and EN- compliant life safety ropes must bear the mark or label of a nationally accredited testing organization such as CSA, UL, SEI, etc. as evidence that the life safety rope has been approved to the requirements of the Standards. Products bearing a CE mark also comply with this section. The CE mark – Conformité Européenne – indicates that the company manufacturing the product has met the requirements of one or more European directives. The product also complies with the listed CEN European standard.

The 2009 edition of the OHS Code marks the first time that Part 9 accepts fall protection equipment approved to standards from the U.S. and Europe. Fall protection equipment approved to any one of these standards is considered to offer an equivalent level of worker protection. Employers and workers in Alberta now have access to a broader range of equipment to safely meet their fall protection needs. Readers are referred to section 3.1 for information about previous editions of the standards.

Ropes meeting the requirements of the CSA and ANSI standards are simply required to “meet the requirements of” these standards as these standards are not associated with certification programs. Manufacturers normally “declare” or “self-attest” that their products meet the requirements of the standards. CSA does certify life safety ropes under CSA’s fall arrester standard but only when supplied with a manufactured end termination and supplied with a fall arrester. Users are required to use the rope supplied with the fall arrester.

CEN Standard EN 1891

CEN Standard EN 1891: 1998, Personal protective equipment for the prevention of falls from a height. Low stretch kernmantle rope, applies to low stretch textile rope of kernmantle construction from 8.5 mm to 16 mm in diameter, for use by persons in rope access including all kinds of work positioning and restraint, for rescue and in caving. Low stretch kernmantle ropes are defined as Type A and Type B.

Kernmantle rope is a textile rope consisting of a core enclosed by a sheath. The core is usually the main load-bearing element and typically consists of parallel elements that have been drawn and turned together in single or multiple layers, or of braided elements. The sheath is braided or woven and protects the core from, for example, external abrasion and degradation by ultraviolet light.

Type A rope is designed for general use by persons in rope access including all kinds of work positioning and restraint, rescue and caving. Type B rope is of a lower performance than Type A rope, requiring greater care in use.

Type A rope has the following performance characteristics:

(a) elongation (stretch) must not exceed 5 percent under test conditions;
(b) static strength without terminations – at least 22 kN;
(c) static strength when terminated with a knot or other method – at least 15 kN; and
(d) fall arrest peak force must not exceed 6 kN under the test conditions.

NFPA Standard 1983

Chapter 5 of NFPA Standard 1983: 2006, Standard on Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services, presents requirements for life safety rope. The rope must have the following performance characteristics:

(a) elongation must be at least 1 percent but not more than 10 percent at 10 percent of minimum breaking strength;
(b) the breaking strength of light use rope must be at least 4500 lbs (20 kN);
(c) the breaking strength of general use rope must be at least 9000 lbs (40 kN);
(d) light use rope must have a diameter of not less than 3/8 in. (9.5 mm) and not more than ½ in. (13 mm);
(e) general use rope must have a diameter of not less than ½  in. (13 mm) and not more than 5/8 in. (16 mm); and
(f) fibre used in rope must have a melting point of not less than 40000 F (20400C).

CSA Standard Z259.2.1 and ANSI Standard Z359.1

Life safety rope meeting the minimum requirements of these standards is allowed to stretch up to 22 percent when loaded to a force of 8 kN and have a minimum breaking strength of 27 kN.

Subsection 147(2) Safe use of life safety ropes

1.2 metre distance

The purpose of the 1.2 metre distance is to ensure that a worker on a suspended work platform, such as a boatswain’s chair or swingstage scaffold, can be secured to a life safety rope through the full range of travel of the work platform.

In some circumstances it is not practicable or safe for the life safety rope to extend to within 1.2 metres of the lower landing spot. For example, if a work platform is rigged over an underground parking entrance and the lower end of the life safety rope came to within 1.2 metres of the roadway, there would be a danger of the rope being caught by a vehicle unless access was blocked. Blocking access may not be practicable in which case the life safety rope must be terminated at a safe distance above the danger area. The work platform must also be rigged to prevent it being lowered below a level at which the fall protection equipment becomes ineffective and traffic is a danger to the work platform.

Knots and splices

Life safety ropes must be free of knots or splices along their travel portion so that rope strength is not reduced and fall arresting devices such as fall arresters i.e. rope grabs, can move freely. This requirement is not intended to prohibit the use of a knot at the upper end of the rope where the rope is secured to an anchor either directly or via a connecting device such as a carabiner. Ropes with a manufactured termination eliminate the need for workers to know how to tie a secure anchor knot, reducing the chances of the rope separating for the anchor. The stopper knot at the life safety rope’s lower termination serves to prevent the fall arrester from sliding off the rope.

Abrasion protection and hazard selection

When under the tension of a fall, a life safety rope in contact with the edge of an I-beam or hatchway opening can be damaged to the point of complete failure. The risk of damage and failure can be reduced by physically protecting the life safety rope where it passes over a sharp or rough edge. The risk of damage can be altogether eliminated if the life safety rope can be repositioned away from contact with any sharp or rough edges.

Tools, chemicals and work processes such as welding can sever, abrade, melt, burn or otherwise damage a typical life safety rope. Where such hazards are present, life safety ropes made of wire rope or other material appropriate to the hazard must be used.

Swing fall hazard

Anchor selection and routing of lifelines over and around structures must take into consideration swing fall hazards. Ideally, work should be performed directly below the anchor. The further away a worker is from this ideal position, the greater the potential for the worker to swing as a pendulum into objects if a worker falls (see Figure 9.12).

Figure 9.12 Example of worker falling and swinging like a pendulum into a fixed structure

In situations where swinging cannot be avoided, but where several equally good anchor locations are available, the anchor selected should direct the swing fall away from objects rather than into them. Where there is a choice among anchors, the one offering the least amount of swing should be selected.

Subsection 147(4) One worker per life safety rope

Unless designed for simultaneous use by multiple workers or as part of an engineered fall arrest system on a fixed ladder, only one worker can be attached to a life safety rope at any one time.

Swing drop distance

Subsection 147(2)(e) now includes a 1.2 m (4 ft) swing drop distance based on a requirement appearing in CSA Standard Z259.16. The limitation tries to reduce the potential for injury in a swing fall by limiting how far a worker will drop during the swing. The velocity of a worker that swings into a structure is determined by the height dropped from the start of the swing to the point of contact. Since the worker has the greatest degree of control over the swing fall hazard, this requirement applies to the worker.