Best practice: anchor points

Best practice: anchor points

Anchor points are designed to catch a person or hold them in place after they’ve fallen, so that they don’t hit the ground. You shouldn’t only be interested in stopping a fall. It is important to ensure the least possible amount of injury to the worker after their fall has been stopped.

From the earliest days of man starting to conquer mountains, some of the most basic equipment and terminology involved identifying ropes and points on which to be anchored. This was necessary to secure oneself and prevent falls from height.

These concepts are still very much central to industries involving climbing and industrial work at height. They also contain some of the most misguided ideas and misunderstood topics. For the untrained installer or user, there are many unknown factors pertaining to anchor devices, and if they are incorrectly installed or used, it can literally be a death trap.

Anchor points can be permanently installed, for example on rooftops and windows, but there may be situations where workers must access a work area that lacks a permanently installed system, such as heavy machinery. In these cases, they will need to make use of the structures and substrates available to them.

The following guidelines will help workers to make informed decisions when connecting at heights:

Selecting permanent anchors

There are various anchor devices on the market that are promoted as being “permanent systems”. These devices are designed and manufactured to be installed into a structure and generally remain installed over an extended period of time. This is common for high frequency access areas, such as building maintenance or rooftops that need regular maintenance of airconditioning units.

Even though some anchor points may be “permanent”, they are still exposed to environmental elements (such as rust, heat, and chemicals) as well as regular use, which can wear them down over time. For this reason, it is a legal requirement that all permanently installed anchor points undergo annual testing and recertification to ensure the safety of the connection.

A year is quite a long time to wait to see if an anchor point is still safe to use, so it is recommended that quarterly inspections are performed by the user. It may very well be that these inspections find points that would render the anchor unsafe, such as loose fittings, corrosions, or bends and cracks to the anchor bolt itself. This type of inspection should be done by a competent person to the manufacturer’s specification.

Angles of loads

There are a wide range of anchor points that are purposefully manufactured to be used for rope access or fall arrest applications. It is important to recognise that each one of these devices has its own limitations in terms of working load limits (WLL) and directional application of the load. Anchor points hold the weight of the worker and all of their personal protective equipment.

When a worker falls while connected to an anchor point, there are certain forces exerted on the anchor. These will vary depending on the amount of weight imposed. Always use an anchor point in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines on its loading capabilities as well as the angles of connection.

Position of anchor points

Anchors should be planned and placed to ensure there is always safe access to and from the anchor point. In some cases, this may mean the provision of additional anchors or other access equipment (such as stairs, ladders, or guardrails) to allow access to the required location.

Anchors should also be placed to enable workers to access their work area as safely and conveniently as possible. This is generally done through an anchor point plan that is prepared by a competent person prior to work commencing.

Anchor types

All anchor points must be selected to meet the specific requirements of the scope of work. As is the case with different load angles, it is important to recognise the different WLL and directional load application of the various devices available.

The installation of anchor points must comply with the manufacturer’s instructions and the applied force and direction of the force must be adhered to. There is a major concern with installers using alternative anchor type methods such as eye nuts, as most eye nuts can only be exposed to axial forces and cannot bear lateral loads.

Load testing of anchors after installation

All anchor points should be subjected to a load test to verify correct installation. Load testing must be done at the prescribed minimum load and in the direction of the applied force, and only by a certified and trained professional.

In many cases, anchors are merely tested for resistance to axial loading – what are known as “pull-out” tests. This unfortunately mostly ignores the reality of bending moments and shear forces.

All installed chemical anchors must follow the instructions of the manufacturer and special attention must be paid to the minimum depth, drill diameter, and hole preparation. Minimum edge distances and the condition of the concrete is also of fundamental importance.

After a successful load test has been completed, the anchor points should have visible markings on them to inform the user of the installer’s name; the installation date, as well as any related service and inspection or testing history; a serial number; the safe working load; and the SANS standard that the anchor conforms to.

Is it recommended to test and certify frequently-used anchor points every three to six months and rarely-used anchor points annually or prior to the next use (not exceeding 6 months). A certificate should be issued per anchor with the results of the inspection/test.

Anchor point safety should not be taken lightly. There are many factors that need to be considered, from the regulations, planning phase, selection of anchors, and chemical mortar to the momentum and forces applied to anchors, as well as testing and certification.

Although we find many operators in the industry installing and testing anchors without the correct competency and certification to do so, this is certainly a task best left to the professionals. It can be regarded as gross negligence to contract an anchor planner, installer, or tester who lacks the right credentials.

Always ensure there is an anchor plan in place for anchors that are being installed. Once installed, ensure the anchor plan is factored into the site fall protection plan and that access to and from the anchors points has been risk assessed. This must include identifying possible rescues using the anchor points.

Published by

Ruaan Breedt

Ruaan Breedt is the working at height and fall protection specialist at BBF Safety Group. He has completed the following training and obtained accreditation for: Production efficiencies & ISO 9001:2015 auditor; fall arrest level 1, 2 and 3; confined space entry, exit and rescue; and is a fall arrest equipment testing specialist. He is a SABS technical committee member; SABS ISO mirror committee technical member; and fall arrest and rope access chamber member.
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