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Safety Science 48 (2010) 747754

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Adequacy of personal fall arrest energy absorbers in relation to heavy workers

Yang Miang Goh a,*, Peter E.D. Love b
School of Public Health, Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI), Faculty of Health Sciences, Curtin University of Technology, GPO Box U1987, Perth,
Western Australia 6845, Australia
School of Built Environment, Faculty of Humanities, Curtin University of Technology, GPO Box U1987, Perth, Western Australia 6845, Australia

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Despite the increasing weight of workers, most energy absorbers of personal fall arrest systems are only
Received 8 January 2010 tested to 100 kg. In addressing this shortcoming this research aims to evaluate the capacity of fall arrest
Received in revised form 12 February 2010 energy absorbers in relation to the weight of heavy workers so as to provide recommendations for
Accepted 15 February 2010
improvements to current fall arrest standards. A series of dynamic drop tests based on the Australian
and New Zealand fall protection equipment standard (AS/NZS 1891.1:2007) were conducted. A total of
31 samples on seven types of energy absorbers were undertaken. The experiment simulated a worst cred-
ible scenario of a 3.8 m fall of a rigid mass which was connected using inelastic material. The capacity of
Occupational safety
each type of energy absorber was determined using the test mass that caused one or both of the following
Fall from height test criteria to be breached: (1) at least two samples reached the maximum possible extension and (2) at
Fall protection least two samples had the maximum arrest force exceeding 7 kN. The estimated capacities were then
Fall arrest compared with the 95th percentile weight of worker working at height. The research demonstrates that
Energy absorber 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. It is recommended that the test mass stipulated in fall
arrest standards should be revised and increased to accommodate the increasing weight of workers.
2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction A personal fall arrest system is a type of PPE that is designed to

absorb the energy created by its user during an accidental fall from
Besides being a major health concern (Hubert et al., 1983; Iso- height. A typical personal fall arrest system is comprised of the fol-
maa et al., 2001; Must et al., 1999), obesity has been associated lowing components: (1) full body harness, (2) connectors, (3) lan-
with traumatic occupational injuries (Ostbye et al., 2007; Pollack yard, (4) energy absorber, and (5) anchor. Each of these
et al., 2007) and impose serious occupational safety and health components is critical to safely arresting a fall. With peoples
concerns (Australian Safety and Compensation Council, 2008). Pol- weight increasing, this paper evaluates the capacity of energy
lack et al. (2007) identied that the association between obesity absorbers. The Canadian Standards Association (2005) denes an
and traumatic injuries is due to an array of factors such as fatigue energy absorber as any device that dissipates kinetic energy and
or sleepiness, physical limitations, ergonomics, poor health, lower does not return it to the system or into the human body (p. 5).
tolerance to hazardous mechanical energy, and lack of comfort, t In most personal fall arrest systems, the energy absorber is the
and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE). Lack of key component for absorbing the energy created during the users
comfort, t or availability of PPE for obese workers is a problematic fall.
issue and attributable to the lack of current anthropometric data A personal fall arrest system is an indispensable PPE in work-
that reects the increasing weight and size of workers (Australian places that are dynamic and require employees to work at height,
Safety and Compensation Council, 2009; Barroso et al., 2005). The for example construction (Beavers et al., 2009; Bobick, 2004;
lack of current anthropometric data can also lead to obese workers Huang and Hinze, 2003; Kines, 2002; Sa et al., 2009), building
using PPE not designed for their body weight and measurement maintenance (Chan et al., 2008) and aircraft maintenance (Neitzel
(Australian Safety and Compensation Council, 2009). Such incom- et al., 2008). Most fall arrest equipment standards (for e.g. ANSI/
patibility can cause PPE failure and thus injuries or even fatalities. ASSE, 2007; British Standards Institution, 1993; Canadian Stan-
Hence this paper describes the result of a study on the adequacy of dards Association, 2005; Standards Australia/Standards New Zea-
fall arrest energy absorbers in relation to heavy workers. land, 2007) require systems to be dynamically tested using a test
mass of 100 kg. In view of the increasing weight of workers there
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +61 8 9266 7029; fax: +61 8 9266 2358. are concerns that the 100 kg test mass underestimates the weight
E-mail address: (Y.M. Goh). of heavy workers (Haines et al., 2005; Wingeld, 2008).

0925-7535/$ - see front matter 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
748 Y.M. Goh, P.E.D. Love / Safety Science 48 (2010) 747754

Several studies on fall arrest equipment that have been gener-

ally commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (for e.g.
Crawford, 2003; Haines et al., 2005; Riches, 2002; Seddon, 2002)
or Baszczynski (2004, 2006, 2007) have not taken into account
the capacity of energy absorbers for heavy workers. With this in
mind, this study aims to evaluate the capacity of fall arrest energy
absorbers in relation to the weight of heavy workers so as to pro-
vide recommendations for improvements to current standards.

2. Materials and methods

Fig. 2. Deployed energy absorbers.
2.1. Test samples

To facilitate the study, a fall protection expert, with at least

20 years of practical experience, identied seven types of energy Rigid Hoist
absorbers commonly used in Australia. All seven types of energy anchorage
absorbers were certied to the AS/NZS 1891.1:2007 standard structure
(Standards Australia/Standards New Zealand, 2007) and like most Hoisting line
fall arrest energy absorbers, all seven types of energy absorbers
were made of polyamide webbings that are stitched or woven to- Load
gether (Work at Height Safety Association, 2006). During the arrest Cell Position (2)
of a fall, the webbings tear apart, dissipating the kinetic energy of
the fall in the process. Due to the destructive nature of the energy
absorbing mechanism, activated energy absorbers cannot be re- Test Mass
used. Fig. 1 identies examples of commonly available energy
absorbers. Both energy absorbers identied in Fig. 1 are not acti-
vated. The non-load bearing plastic wrap of energy absorber B Steel Absorber
has been removed to display the polyamide webbing (Fig. 1). chain
Fig. 2 identies two activated or deployed energy absorbers. The
experiment used energy absorbers that were manufactured with-
out lanyards and they were connected to the test mass using a steel
chain. In such situations, the energy absorber is essentially the only
component absorbing the kinetic energy of the fall. This experi-
mental approach is meant to simulate the worst credible situation Energy
where energy absorbers, sold as individual components (i.e. with- Absorber
Hoisting line
out lanyard), were used in conjunction with inelastic components
Quick release
of a personal fall arrest systems.

2.2. Experiment setup and procedure

The experiment setup, in accordance to Appendix H of AS/NZS Position Test Mass

1891.1:2007, is shown in Fig. 3. The laboratory that conducted (1) (M)
the experiment was accredited by the National Association of Test-
ing Authorities (NATA), Australia (accreditation number: 15072) to
conduct testing in accordance to AS/NZS 1891.1. As part of the Horizontal distance
NATA certication, the force measurement instrument (including (<300mm)
the load cell, data logger and lter) had to comply with the require- Fig. 3. Test setup in accordance to AS/NZS 1891.1:2007.
ments of SAE J211 for channel class 60 (Society of Automotive
Engineers, 1988).
For each test, the energy absorber was connected to the rigid
The hoist was connected to the test mass via a quick release mech-
test mass and the anchor on a rigid structure. The test mass was
anism that limited horizontal movement during the initiation of
then hoisted to a suitable height that would provide a free fall dis-
the drop. All samples were only tested once. Two trial runs were
tance of 3.8 m. The horizontal distance was minimised to 300 mm.
conducted to familiarise the technicians with the procedure and
to ensure that the testing equipment was functioning.
For each type of energy absorber, the experiment started with a
100 kg test mass and was increased progressively at 10 kg intervals
A until the capacity was determined. This contrasted with the xed
100 kg test mass stipulated in AS/NZS 1891.1:2007. The number
of samples used for each type of energy absorber may vary as a re-
sult of the absorbers capacity. For example, a type A energy absor-
ber has a capacity of 110120 kg, which is determined by four
B samples tested at 100 kg, 110 kg, and twice at 120 kg. On the other
hand, type C energy absorber has a higher capacity of 120130 kg,
with ve samples tested at 100 kg, 110 kg, 120 kg, and twice at
Fig. 1. Examples of energy absorbers. 130 kg.
Y.M. Goh, P.E.D. Love / Safety Science 48 (2010) 747754 749

Due to the cost of test specimens and the time and resources in- shows a typical forcetime chart of an energy absorber that bot-
volved, destructive experiments frequently use small sample sizes. tomed out. As can be observed, the arrest force recorded increased
For example, Baszczynski (2004) evaluated four types of energy very signicantly when the energy absorber reaches its maximum
absorbers and used two or three samples for each simulated extension.
weather condition. Riches (2004) used one sample for each of the The second test criteria relates directly to the arrest force or ar-
seven test congurations to evaluate the effectiveness of ladder rest deceleration, which inuences the probability of injury (Ei-
safety hoops in arresting a fall. Likewise, Schuler et al. (2006) used band, 1959). In AS/NZS 1891.1:2007 and EN 355:2002 the
four samples for each load stage in their experimental testing of maximum allowable arrest force is 6 kN. The value of 6 kN had
concrete under dynamic loads. The small sample size for this study been conservatively determined based on experiments and tests
is acceptable as it is assumed that most fall arrest equipment man- on ejection seats and parachutes in military settings (Crawford,
ufacturers have stringent measures to ensure consistency in the 2003). Despite having referred to similar set of literature and data,
capacity of their product to minimise cost and prevent failure dur- the North American standards (ANSI/ASSE, 2007; Canadian Stan-
ing usage. This assumption is supported by the test results, which dards Association, 2005) have selected 8 kN as the maximum
are discussed below. allowable arrest force for personal arrest systems. As a compro-
In AS/NZS 1891.1:2007, the maximum arrest force, Fm, is calcu- mise, 7 kN was used as the maximum allowable arrest force in this
lated based on the moving average of 50 ms of arrest force read- study. Note that the test criteria are meant to facilitate estimation
ings. This reduces the potential for errors due to isolated spikes of capacity in accordance to the research purpose; they do not im-
of arrest force. The same approach has been adopted in this study ply that the energy absorbers tested are unsafe.
when determining maximum arrest force. The force reading at
each time step (1 ms) and Fm are automatically captured through 3. Results
the force measurement instrument (consisting of the load cell, l-
ter and personal computer) onto a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. A total of 31 samples of the seven types of energy absorbers
The extension of each energy absorber, X (mm), was determined (types AG) were tested to estimate the capacity of energy absorb-
based on the difference in lengths of the energy absorber before ers commonly available in Australia. The maximum arrest force
and after the dynamic test. and extension of the energy absorbers after testing are presented
in Figs. 5 and 6. The mean values for the maximum arrest force
2.3. Test criteria and extension were indicated in the gures for ease of reference.
In addition, the energy absorbers that bottomed out were also
The capacity of each type of energy absorber was estimated identied. The estimated capacity of the seven types of energy
based on the test mass that caused one or both of the following test absorbers and the corresponding rationale for the estimations are
criteria to be met: (1) at least two samples reached their maximum summarised in Table 1.
extension length (known as bottomed out in the fall arrest eld) As can be seen in Figs. 5 and 6, most of the energy absorber
or (2) the maximum arrest force of at least two samples exceeded types have consistent capacity. For example, the two type A sam-
7 kN. Since the test criteria clearly specify the minimum number of ples tested at 120 kg have similar maximum arrest forces (Fm)
samples required to dene capacity, the impact of the variation in and extensions (X) (Figs. 5 and 6). This supports the assumption
sample size, if any, is not signicant. Furthermore, it should be that the variation in the capacity of each energy absorber type is
noted that the study relies on qualitative analysis of experimental small, and the selected sample size is acceptable.
results and did not involve any statistical test that is dependent on In the case of type G energy absorber, all the samples were uti-
consistent sample size to assure reliable analysis. lised before any of the two test criteria were met. However, it was
The capacity of an energy absorber is limited by its maximum observed that the maximum arrest force of one of the samples
extension. In AS/NZS 1891.1:2007 and EN355:2002 (British Stan- tested at 130 kg exceeded 7 kN and the sample tested at 140 kg
dards Institution, 2002), the maximum allowable extension of had an elongation that exceeded 1.75 m. Hence, even though the
the energy absorber is 1.75 m. The requirement is meant to pre- test criteria were not breached, the capacity of type G energy ab-
vent workers from hitting the ground or obstacles due to excessive sorber was conservatively estimated as 130140 kg.
extension of the energy absorber. When an energy absorber bot- Table 1 presents the capacity in terms of mass (kg), which is the
toms out, the motion of the user will stop abruptly and the impact usual approach for fall arrest equipment, and in terms of amount of
force experienced can be very high, leading to severe injuries. Fig. 4 energy absorbed or work done. The amount of potential energy ab-
sorbed, Ep, is calculated as follows:

Ep mgh 1

where m is the mass of test mass, g is gravitational acceleration

(9.81 m/s2) and h is the free fall height of the test mass (3.8 m).
The free fall height did not include the displacement during fall ar-
rest. The advantages of dening capacity based on Ep are discussed
in Section 4.4.

4. Discussion

4.1. Adequacy of energy absorbers

The Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC) (2009)

have indicated that there is a lack of up-to-date anthropometric
data and a representative sample of workers working at height
has not been available. In view of this limitation, the body mass
Fig. 4. Typical forcetime graph where energy absorber bottoms out. data of UK workers working at height identied in Table 2 was
750 Y.M. Goh, P.E.D. Love / Safety Science 48 (2010) 747754

Fig. 5. Maximum arrest force versus test mass.

used to compare against the estimated capacity in Table 1 (Haines standards be increased in accordance to the 95th percentile weight
et al., 2005). Since a signicant proportion of Australians have mi- of workers working at height.
grated from the United Kingdom (UK), and both are developed It may be argued that the tests conducted in this study were
countries with obesity problems (Australian Safety and Compensa- based on the worst case scenario of a 3.8 m fall, which is prohibited
tion Council, 2008), the estimations provided by Haines et al. in most workplaces. For instance, in the United States (US) fall ar-
(2005) are deemed to be suitable. rest systems that allow free fall distance of greater than 1.8 m are
Using the upper bounds of the 95th percentile weight provided prohibited by law (Occupational Safety and Health Administration,
in Table 2, a heavy worker working at height weighs 118.4 kg and 1991). Furthermore, in the experiment, steel chains, instead of
the total weight with equipment is 122.0 kg. Comparing the latter polyamide or other stretchable lanyards, were used to connect
(122.0 kg) with the results in Table 1, it can be observed that only the energy absorbers to the test mass and anchor. It is suggested
type G energy absorber has adequate capacity and type C energy that these test conditions are justied as energy absorbers are
absorber may be able to address the 122.0 kg mass marginally. sold as separate components and workers may connect them to
The lower bound for weight without equipment, 112.3 kg (Table 2), non-elastic lanyards of signicant length (e.g. 2 m or more). Even
is within the estimated capacity range (110120 kg) of most of the if energy absorbers are connected to polyamide (or other elastic
energy absorbers tested, namely types A, B, D and E. Type F would material) lanyards, the energy absorbing capacity of the lanyards
reach the test criteria when arresting a mass of 112.3 kg. Only will be relatively insignicant compared to the energy absorbers.
types C and G have sufcient capacity to arrest a 112.3 kg mass. Furthermore, a search on the Internet for current products sold
These results indicate that during the arrest of a 3.8 m fall, heavy internationally shows that lanyard length of 1.752 m is common.
workers (as dened in Table 2) may be exposed to arrest force Coupled with the frequent lack of anchor point placed at suitable
greater than 7 kN or the energy absorber may bottom out. Hence, height [anchor points should ideally be overhead (Standards
it is recommended that the test mass specied in fall arrest Australia/Standards New Zealand, 2000)] in work locations such
Y.M. Goh, P.E.D. Love / Safety Science 48 (2010) 747754 751

Fig. 6. Extension of energy absorber after test versus test mass.

Table 1
Estimated capacity of energy absorbers.

Type No. of Estimated Estimated Remarks

samples capacity (kg) capacity (kJ)
A 4 110120 4.104.47 Capacity estimated based on two samples bottomed out and having Fm exceeding 7 kN at
120 kg
B 4 110120 4.104.47 Capacity estimated based on two samples bottomed out and having Fm exceeding 7 kN at
120 kg
C 5 120130 4.474.85 Capacity estimated based on two samples having Fm exceeding 7 kN at 130 kg
D 4 110120 4.104.47 Capacity estimated based on two samples bottomed out and having Fm exceeding 7 kN at
120 kg
E 4 110120 4.104.47 Capacity estimated based on two samples having Fm exceeding 7 kN at 120 kg
F 4 100110 3.734.10 Capacity estimated based on two samples bottomed out at 110 kg
G 6 130140 4.855.22 Capacity estimated based on one sample exceeding 7 kN at 130 kg and another samples
extension exceeding 1.75 m at 140 kg
Total/ 31 100140 3.735.22

as at roof, steel structures and external of an aircraft and oper- reduce the actual capacity of the personal fall arrest system.
ator errors or violations, free fall distance of 3.8 m is not unlikely. While the approach for this study may be deemed to be conser-
The worst case scenario adopted in the experiment is also justi- vative it was necessary as obese workers are usually of poorer
ed as personal fall arrest systems are subjected to health and are less susceptible to hazardous mechanical energy
environmental and operational wear and tear that will inevitably (Pollack et al., 2007).
752 Y.M. Goh, P.E.D. Love / Safety Science 48 (2010) 747754

Table 2 recommended that heavy workers (100140 kg) should use energy
95th Percentile for weight of workers working at height in UK (Haines et al., 2005). absorbers with maximum arrest force of 8 kN, light workers (50
Category Weight range (kg) 80 kg) should use energy absorbers with maximum arrest force
Weight without equipment 112.3118.4 of 4 kN and other workers (80100 kg) should use energy absorb-
Weight with equipment 116.2122.0 ers with maximum arrest force of 6 kN. Crawfords (2003) sug-
gested the need to consider G-force when designing fall arrest
equipment for workers with differing weights, but neglected the
4.2. Human body versus rigid test mass signicance of acceleration duration (Eiband, 1959; Small, 2004).
Small (2004) developed a series of G-force versus duration graphs
The damping effect and elasticity of the human body have been and noted that even though workers with lighter body mass may
studied in other elds such as human vibration (for e.g. Liang and experience higher G-force (as high as 13 G) for a xed maximum
Chiang, 2006), but have received insufcient attention within the arrest force, the duration of the exposure to the high G-force will
fall arrest eld. A typical approach used in the fall arrest eld is be very short (about 0.05 s). On the other hand, for the same max-
to utilise a multiplication factor to increase the allowable user imum arrest force, a heavy worker (175 kg) will experience a sig-
mass determined based on a rigid test mass. For instance, in the nicantly lower G-force (about 5 G), but the duration of
US a multiplication factor of 1.4 is used (Occupational Safety and acceleration will be longer (about 2.3 s). Smalls analysis indicates
Health Administration, 1991), i.e. a personal fall arrest system suc- that with shorter exposure high G-force may be acceptable. Due to
cessfully tested to 100 kg can be used by a user of 140 kg. However, a lack of research on the topic, the optimal approach to specifying
Z259.16-04 has reduced the multiplication factor to 1.0 (Canadian fall arrest energy absorbers to cater for a wide range of body mass
Standards Association, 2004). The lowering of the factor is based on is not available and is beyond the scope of this paper.
the concerns that: (1) in the context of personal fall arrest system,
the elasticity of the human body is relatively insignicant and (2)
slippage and extension of other components of the personal fall ar- 4.4. Energy absorption capacity
rest system (e.g. harness) may result in additional kinetic energy
being created during the arrest. Readers are referred to the stan- An interim measure to facilitate consideration of user weight is
dard for a more detailed discussion on the multiplication factor. to indicate the capacity of energy absorbers based on the amount
There is no clear indication of this multiplication factor in other of energy that the energy absorber is designed to absorb. Table 1
standards such as AS/NZS 1891.1:2007 (Standards Australia/Stan- contains the estimated capacities of the different types of energy
dards New Zealand, 2007) and EN 355:2002 (British Standards absorber in kilo-Joules (kJ) determined based on Eq. (1). The advan-
Institution, 2002). In this study, the factor of 1.0 has been adopted. tage of this approach is that it allows users or employers to deter-
mine the maximum free fall height (h = Ep/mg) using the user
4.3. Specifying energy absorbers based on weight weight (including equipment weight) and the energy absorption
capacity provided by the manufacturer or standard. For example,
Unlike the other standards reviewed in this study, the Canadian if a worker with body mass of 150 kg was using an energy absorber
standards Z259.11-05 (Canadian Standards Association, 2005) has with 3.73 kJ capacity, the maximum free fall height that he/she can
special considerations for heavy workers. In Z259.11-05, two clas- be exposed to is 2.53 m. This maximum free fall distance can then
ses of energy absorbers were stipulated, Class E4 and Class E6. For be controlled with a lanyard that is less than 1.25 m in length, such
ambient dry condition, Class E6 energy absorber has maximum that the worst case scenario fall is twice the length of the lanyard,
allowable arrest force of 6 kN as compared to 4 kN for Class E4 en- i.e. 2.5 m.
ergy absorber. The Class E6 energy absorbers are tested to 160 kg Table 3 presents the minimum energy absorption capacity (in
with a free fall height of 1.8 m. According to Z259.11-05 Class E6 kJ) currently required in different standards. Specifying required
energy absorbers are designed for workers with body mass be- minimum energy absorption capacity provides a clearer picture
tween 90 kg and 175 kg. Interestingly the allowable body mass of capacity and facilitates comparison across standards. For in-
range stipulated in Z259.11-05 seems to indicate a multiplication stance, Class E6 energy absorbers of Z259.11-05 are tested with a
factor of 1.1 instead of 1.0 as discussed above. 160 kg test mass and free fall height of is 1.8 m, i.e. the required
Specifying energy absorbers based on different categories of minimum capacity is 2.83 kJ, which is less than the required min-
weight appear to be a feasible approach that should be incorpo- imum capacity required by AS/NZS 1891.1:2007 and EN355:2002.
rated in the other fall arrest standards. However, to create fall ar- Based on Table 3, ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2007 and Z259.11-05 have
rest standards that consider the full range of body mass of users lower required minimum energy absorption capacity than AS/
will require more detailed research. The fall arrest eld has tradi- NZS 1891.1:2007 and EN355:2002. Note that despite requiring less
tionally simplied the issue by xing the body mass to a pre-de- energy absorbing capacity, ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2007 and Z259.11-
ned value, e.g. 100 kg, and relate test results to research on 05 have more stringent requirement in terms of maximum exten-
human tolerance based on G-force (for e.g. Eiband, 1959; Stapp, sion of the energy absorbers. This implies that energy absorbers
1961). Crawford (2003) found this approach inadequate and he certied to Canadian and US standards will generally have lower
conducted a theoretical analysis of the G-force created by different capacity than those tested in this study. Accordingly, heavy work-
body mass (50140 kg) during a fall arrest. Crawford (2003) ers using energy absorbers certied to ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2007 and

Table 3
Minimum capacity of energy absorber.

Standard Test mass, m (kg) Free fall distance, H (m) Maximum allowable extension, X (m) Minimum capacity (kJ)
ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2007 100 1.829 1.067 1.79
AS/NZS 1891.1:2007 100 3.8 1.75 3.73
EN 355:2002 100 4 1.75 3.92
Z259.11-05 (Class E4; ambient dry condition) 100 1.8 1.2 1.77
Z259.11-05 (Class E6; ambient dry condition) 160 1.8 1.75 2.83
Y.M. Goh, P.E.D. Love / Safety Science 48 (2010) 747754 753

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retractable type fall arresters protecting against falls from a height.
force during a worst case scenario fall.
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