Australian OHS research has raised some concerns about the “adequacy of personal fall arrest energy absorbers in relation to heavy workers“. In summary:
“The research demonstrates that most energy absorbers are not able to ensure that the two test criteria are not breached during the arrest of a heavy worker in the worst case scenario fall.”
There are many variables in this statement but it means that safety professionals may need to review their fall arrest devices to verify that the safety devices meet the needs of the (increasingly obese) workforce.
The two researchers, Yang Miang Goh and Peter Love, said that the lack current anthropometric data on obesity may lead to people relying on fall protection devices that may not cope with the stress applied if used by an obese worker. They point out that most fall-protection standards around the world are rated to a test mass of 100kg and that an increasing number of workers exceed this benchmark.
The researchers undertook the research for many reasons but one was that the UK’s Health & Safety Executive’s studies into fall arrest equipment in the last decade have not considered heavy workers.
SafetyAtWorkBlog contacted fall protection retailers and manufacturers to get a quick idea about whether the issue of heavy workers has been considered. Thankfully, one manufacturer said that there are fall protection devices that are rated to 140kg. One retailer said that their first response to a customer would be to provide a harness that matches a large physical frame. This would most-likely generate an upgrade of the fall arrest equipment to the heavier limit.
Of course all this comes down to caveat emptor. Safety equipment purchasers need to ensure that what they purchase meets the safety needs of their particular workers. In industries where shortcuts on safety are regularly made, suitably fall protection is another issue that needs to be considered in their safe work method statements, OHS procedures and in their negotiations with contractors and labour-hire agencies.
Goh and Love’s research highlights the risk of making assumptions on fall protection devices but also illustrates deficiencies in standard setting (or at least, maintenance) by the official bodies. One would have to ask why the 100kg rating has existed so long in a time when workers are getting heavier.
So, to answer the title of this blog, yes it can, but there is the suspicion that unless the issue of heavy workers is spoken about in the safety context at work, someone, sometime will have a fall arrest fail with dreadful consequence.