The Roco RDX®: Designed to Make Fast Roping Safer

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

An Innovation from Roco Rescue’s Ish Antonio

Pat Furr: Today I have the pleasure of interviewing one of my Roco Rescue colleagues, Ish Antonio who manages our Tactical Division. Ish will be telling us about the Roco RDX® which is a device that was developed in our Tactical Division and is used during helicopter fast rope insertions.Tactical operators fast roping from a helicopterThis is not a device that would be used in your typical rescue effort, but for certain tactical operators, it makes their job significantly safer without compromising their speed of insertion.

Ish and I have known and worked together for nearly 40 years now, first as US Air Force Pararescuemen (PJs), and the last 19+ years with Roco Rescue. Our career paths in the Air Force were pretty intertwined, with Ish and I being assigned at the same unit a couple of times, and also with Ish assigned to a unit that provided fixed wing support for our helicopter squadron. In other words, we have a long history as both teammates and friends.

Ish has always been on the leading edge of coming up with innovative solutions to the operator’s needs. The Roco RDX is just such an innovation and I will let Ish explain what it does and how it works.

Ish Antonio: First, let’s talk about fast roping. We often arrive at the scene of an op by means of a helicopter, and frequently we can’t land the helicopter due to obstructions on the ground, or the landing zone is just too small, such as a rooftop in an urban environment. There are several options to get the operators inserted. They can be hoisted in using the aircraft hoist. They can rappel in using traditional rappel techniques. Or for large teams or for increased speed, the fast rope operation is the preferred method.  

The fast rope technique uses a two and a half inch braided rope that is attached to a highpoint at the aircraft exit. The difference between a fast rope insertion and being hoisted or rappel, is that with a fast rope, there is no positive attachment between the rope and the operator. 

So in essence, when you fast rope, you are holding on for dear life in the truest sense. Think of sliding down an old school fireman’s pole, only from much higher and usually at night with a lot of gear strapped to your body.

A lot of operators have been seriously hurt or worse with this technique due to missing the rope, falling off the rope, being knocked off the rope by a teammate, or being trampled at the ground by teammates landing on top. For most, the greatest hazard is exiting the aircraft and getting a good grip on the rope. It is a leap of faith and at night, on NVGs (night vision goggles), with a load of equipment and a line of teammates behind you, the potential to miss the rope is pretty high. Generally the aircraft will maintain about 5 knots of forward airspeed to avoid a dogpile at the bottom, but on tight LZ’s (landing zones) like the bridge of a ship or tight rooftop, it has to be in a stable hover and that’s when we have the potential for a dogpile. But the tradeoff is it gets the team inserted in minimal time and reduces the aircraft time on target.

PF: What is the RDX and how does it make fast roping safer for the operators as well as the canines?

IA: When we were active duty, we had our med kits, combat kit, survival vest or load bearing equipment, and other assorted odds and ends. It seems nowadays our operators are not only bigger, but they are loading out with much more and heavier kit. So the potential for coming off the fast rope is greater than ever.

The first version of a device to make fast roping safer is called the FREDS and it was developed about 15 years ago by a PJ named Tracy Barnet. The FREDS is a metal plate about the size of a dinner plate with integral friction bars much like a brake rack. To descend you had to actually lift the fast rope up to reduce tension. So, if you were in a higher hover or if there were people on the rope below you, then you would not be able to descend.

I got involved with the USAF Guardian Angel (GA) Program which you were also a part of, and I had already had an idea for a next generation device based on the alpine sandal wrap. Part of the GA Program was our heavy and light extrication packages which were both quite heavy. Add to that the K9 teams with a 60+ pound dog, and we are just adding more and more weight to the operator’s load, so we needed a device that would provide that positive connection, the added safety of a controlled descent, but would not require the rope below to be clear of personnel or so heavy that the weight would prevent the  FREDS from descending. I didn’t push the idea for the Roco Double X (RDX) because everyone seemed happy with the FREDS. But as the load outs got heavier I wanted to provide a better device that was safer and also was able to function with a loaded fast rope.

The name RDX is short for “Roco Double X” and is so named because it is based on the Sandal Wrap, which is a friction knot and forms an X behind the rope and a second X in front of the rope. RDX in position on a rope, with logo

I’m fortunate to live near the Pararescue (PJ) School at Kirtland AFB and have access to their training tower. The PJs were very interested in this project so they were great at supporting us with access to the tower for development testing. After performing hundreds of fast ropes on the various prototypes we developed, starting with ½” kernmantle, we evolved to the PMI Aramid type Technora rope which handles the heat that is generated much better than Dacron rope. The Technora will handle upwards of 700 degrees Fahrenheit before seeing any adverse effects and we will never approach that level of heat generation, even with the longest fast ropes and heaviest weights. So I am comfortable saying it is over engineered for this type of application.

PF: Can you describe in a bit more detail the configuration of the RDX?

IA: The actual length of the RDX is just a shade over 41 inches. I originally had a handle at the apex of the RDX positioned right at the mid-point which is where you start the sandal wrap and then wrap downwards. The original handle wasn’t allowing us to modulate the speed of descent the way we wanted it to, so we changed to a friction pad wrapped in Nomex mounted in the same position which gives us the exact amount of control we were looking for.

PF: The RDX is actually quite a simple device. It is essentially a length of Technora rope sewn together to form a loop with the friction pad. How do you connect?

IA: That’s what is so great about this device. Because it’s a continuous loop which forms two closed loops at each end, we simply bring those two loops together at the bottom of the sandal wrap and clip in there.

The beauty of the RDX is it’s small enough to fit in a cargo pocket but it’s rated at over 22 kN so it can also be used as an anchor sling for other rope operations.

PF: So it’s not a one trick pony.

IA: Exactly. It can be used for multiple functions and it is much cheaper to produce than the FREDS - which is a one trick pony. The FREDS still has its place, but for personal use and the fact that the RDX is multi-function, we feel it’s the better choice.

PF: Who would be the primary users of this device?

IA: The US Navy has really gotten onboard with it and the K9 guys especially. The word is still getting out on the RDX but for any unit that uses fast rope, especially when loaded with a heavy kit or a dog, the RDX provides a simple and safe means of infiltration. Military operator fast roping with K9

PF: This sounds like a great device. So what are the potential downsides to using it?

IA: Keep in mind that the RDX forms a knot around the fast rope, so just like any knot, it requires initial training and proficiency maintenance training in order for it to be effective. That being said, the sandal knot is a very simple knot to tie and to remember how to tie.

PF: Will the RDX work on any fast rope?

IA: That’s a great question. The short answer is yes it will. We have tested it on virtually every fast rope that is being manufactured. The point to keep in mind is that fast ropes are generally in the range of two and a half inch diameter, but there is some variation in those diameters and in the coarseness of the weave as well as the materials used. So the RDX will perform slightly differently depending on the fast rope it’s mounted to. But it will certainly perform as we intended.

PF: Do you recommend training with the RDX mounted to the rope that you will be using operationally?

IA: Yes, in a perfect world that’s the best plan. But sometimes we end up operating with a unit that uses a different fast rope than the one we use at our unit. If possible, it’s best to at least do some ground training off a tower with that rope. But if that’s not available, it will perform reasonably similar between the different ropes.  

PF: For me, the most dangerous part of fast roping was exiting the bird and getting a good grip on the rope.

IA: This is where the RDX really helps, especially for the operators with the bulkier, heavier loads and especially when you are maneuvering a 60+ pound K9 out of the airframe. The operator connects to the RDX prior to exit and thus has a positive connection and will not come off the rope. If they miss their grip, no worry as they will not start their descent until they handle the RDX on descent.

PF: Should the RDX be used for every operator on the infil?

IA: No, that’s not the intent. It’s really intended for the guys that have the extra heavy loads or the K9s. Everyone else just employs standard fast rope techniques. Ish Antonio, Roco Rescue Tactical Program Manager

PF: What if you have multiple guys on the stick that have heavy loads or K9s?

IA: This is one of the benefits of the RDX. You can preposition them on the rope. Simply wrap them into the sandal wrap and attach a carabiner and they will stay in place. So if you have three guys on the stick that should use the RDX, stack three of them at the top of the rope, everyone else exits normally and the last three can quickly clip in one at a time and descend under control.

PF: What other features does the RDX include?

IA: We have a tether attached to the RDX with a quick release which also connects to the top of the fast rope with a girth hitch. This prevents the pre-rigged RDX from moving until it’s released. It’s important to ensure the tether is attached to the top of the fast rope and not to the airframe so the fast rope can be cut away once everyone is on the ground. The operator uses that tether while connecting to the RDX with the carabiner. Once he is connected he leans into the RDX to ensure that it’s positively connected and then releases the tether just before exit.

PF: Who do you see as your market for the RDX?

IA: The US Navy has adopted it and so have most of the Air Force PJ teams. But it’s still relatively new and I think it will take some time before the US Special Operations Command, and other federal and state agencies such as SWAT or similar federal assets get to know it. Our biggest orders right now are coming from Europe. The European special operators are more aligned with general alpinism and understand friction knots and know all about things like auto-blocks. They use them all the time, so the RDX makes perfect sense to them.

PF: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat today, Ish. Are there any last thoughts you would like to share about the Roco RDX?

IA: Our goal was to give the operators something that allows them to perform their mission with the degree of speed they need while at the same time adding a significant improvement in safety. We feel the RDX hits both those marks.

Editor's Note:

To see a 1-page pdf with pictures and key features:

https://www.rocorescue.com/product/rdx

To see a detailed video demonstrating many features of the Roco RDX, check out the video below from our YouTube channel:

 

 

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Use This Time to Inspect and Upgrade Your Rescue Gear

Thursday, April 09, 2020

For those of you who have had to drastically change your travel plans – which pretty much includes 90% of us – and if those travel plans were to attend rescue training, we hope that you have had a chance to read our recent blog article Roco Tips for Maintaining Rescue Skills in the Midst of Coronavirus

If you have had to cancel or postpone your planned training, chances are there are funds that were earmarked for your rescue team that may be diverted to another department or otherwise be lost if you don’t use them before the end of your fiscal year. Maybe those same funds can be used to support your rescue team in other ways.Roco's Rescue Gear Service Life Checklist

 If you use your rescue equipment regularly for training, to rig for potential rescues, or during live rescues, chances are, that equipment has seen some significant wear. Nylon gear is especially prone to degradation and is a likely candidate for replacement. In addition to the ASTM F1740-96 ten-year service life of nylon rescue gear, keep in mind that several manufacturers still place a shorter service life on nylon gear than the ASTM standard.

In addition to the service life of your gear, now is a great time to do a thorough inspection of ALL your equipment. Become familiar with the inspection criteria that the equipment manufacturer may have provided. Some hardware items include built in wear indicators. Learn which items have them, and inspect those items to see if they are still serviceable. For all your gear, check for proper function, obvious damage, indication of shock loading or loading beyond the rated working load, and history of the equipment, if known.

In addition to taking advantage of any available funds to replenish unserviceable gear, now may be the perfect time to purchase some of the gear that you have wanted to introduce into your rescue equipment cache. There are some incredible new pieces of kit that make your job as a rescuer easier and safer. Visit our blog to read about some of these items. If you are still using your trusty brake rack for friction control, give one of the newer devices a try, like the updated Petzl I’D or the new Maestro. The Omni Block pulleys are another great option to try out. There are just too many to list, so take the time to find out what is out there, what may be a great fit for your team and rescue needs, and look into spending some of that money while it's still available.

We’ll be posting informative videos in the coming days that showcase some of the latest equipment advances, so keep an eye on our blog and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date. As always, if you have questions or want to discuss if a particular piece of gear is right for you or our team, feel free to call us at 1-800-647-7626.  

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3 Innovations That Will Change Technical Rescue In The 2020s

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

By Pat Furr

I’d like to share 3 innovations that I see as having game-changing potential for rescue operations in the next decade. None of these 3 are brand new, but recent advances have earned them a place in the rescue team’s toolkit.

Rescuers Lower Patient In A Litter

1) Drones. One of the most dangerous aspects of rescue work is the time pressure that exists to reach victims before they succumb. Unfortunately, we often don’t have eyes on the victim and can’t communicate with them, so we must make assumptions about their condition. Rescuers frequently put themselves at greater risk in order to reach a victim quickly. Drones have the potential to give rescuers a clearer picture of the victim’s condition and possibly even communicate directly with them. This allows rescuers to appropriately pace their actions, to know what tools to bring to effectively treat the victim, and to avoid the same pitfalls that befell the victim. Not to sound too gruesome, but a drone can also help determine if it is a rescue or a recovery operation, which has obvious implications for the rescue operation’s pace and risk exposure.

Drones can also serve as reconnaissance tools during natural disaster rescue operations. This is a much faster and safer method of mapping an area than sending in rescuers and can be done while rescuers are pre-planning. Drones won’t completely replace manned helicopters, but they are safer, more available and more cost effective. Many drones are outfitted with software and GPS that produces maps and can geo-tag objects within centimeters of their actual location. Many also have thermal sensors, which allow for transmission of key data, and are designed to withstand extreme temperatures. Look for drones to play an increasingly important role in helping rescuers during the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, fires, tornadoes, blizzards and just about any adverse weather event.

Drones are also a great tool for getting a visual on victims at extreme height, such as on towers or tall buildings. Oftentimes these victims are not clearly visible with binoculars, making it difficult to assess their physical condition.

Drones are even being designed specifically for use in confined spaces. Previously, drones were susceptible to damaging crashes from flying in tight spaces. Also, the radio frequencies that control them were often unable to penetrate thick concrete walls. But engineers are addressing these issues and have come up with the Flyability Elios 2, for example, which features a spherical cage to protect the drone from slamming into walls. It also boasts a transmission system capable of working beyond line-of-sight, thus enabling the drone to fly into structures made of concrete, steel, and other materials.

Confined Space Drone

These drones will likely help confined space rescuers in two ways… First and foremost, sending a drone instead of a human into a confined space for an inspection will become the norm, and with fewer humans doing entry work, there will be fewer incidents requiring rescue. Second, when a rescue is called for, a drone can scout the space for a rescuer, provide a visual assessment of the victim and transmit atmospheric data to the rescue team. All of these are invaluable pieces of data that will make the rescue operation safer and more effective.

2) Portable Powered Winches. One key skill in rope rescue is the ability to build mechanical advantage (MA) systems so that they can efficiently raise / lower / haul weighted objects using rope. I don’t expect this skill to become obsolete, but the use of portable powered winches will make rope rescue less dependent on rescuer-constructed MA systems. Winches have been around for a long time, and are a standard tool for arborists and tower workers, but they haven’t been used much in rescue until recently, as significant improvements in battery power and materials have now made them reliable and durable enough for use with human cargo. Because they are battery powered and compact, they are especially useful when manpower and operating space are limited. They are lightweight and therefore easy to pack and carry as part of a rescue team’s gear cache.

Winch - Atlas APA-5

SkyHook Rescue Systems and Atlas Devices (whose APA-5 is pictured above) are among the leading manufacturers in this space. In the same way that pocket calculators take the legwork out of doing long division, winches make building efficient hauling systems that much faster and easier. That said, there are a few important caveats to consider when thinking about using portable powered winches in rescue operations. Safe use requires rescuers to factor in the weight capacity and to understand proper winch placement in a system like a tripod. Improper placement has the potential to unbalance and tip a tripod. Rescuers also need to know how to rig up a back-up rope system should the main line fail. Finally, the use of powered winches must consider the added risk of injuring the human load or damage to the system components should it become hung up. For these reasons, it is absolutely critical that the rescue load be visible to a dedicated monitor who can call an immediate stop to the haul should the load become hung up. Nonetheless, portable powered winches definitely have the potential to improve and change rope rescue operations, and I expect we’ll be training with them a lot more frequently in the coming decade.

3) Two-Tension Systems and Team-Style Friction Devices. The use of two-tension systems (sometimes called mirrored systems or dual main systems) is fast becoming a high-interest technique in the rescue world. Why? Since both ropes are tensioned, the load is shared, which decreases the risk of load-induced equipment failure. Also, in a two-tension system, there is no slack in the second line, so the potential free-fall distance is greatly reduced. Additionally, two-tension systems have double the mechanical advantage of traditional systems, making hauling more efficient.

As these two-tension systems become more popular, team-style friction devices (like the Petzl Maestro)Petzl Maestro will be a fixture in a rope rescuer’s toolkit. These are critical components of a two-tension system because they provide the three primary functions two-tensioned systems require – friction control, belay, and haul. By providing two mirrored tensioned systems during a lower, the forces on either of the systems are essentially cut in half. This greatly reduces stress on the system and is more easily managed by the operator working with heavier rescue loads. 3 to 1 Z rig Also, as mentioned previously, using a mirrored 3:1 or 5:1 Z-rig through a Maestro or other similar device during hauling operations will double the mechanical advantage compared to using a single haul system. Applying two 3:1 mirrored MAs results in a 6:1 total MA. This can reduce the manpower required for the haul team, which is beneficial for a variety of reasons.

There exists a healthy debate in the rescue world over the pros and cons of two-tension systems versus more traditional single-main / single-backup systems, but it appears as though two-tension systems are winning the argument and will become the standard in the coming decade. 

Two-tensioned systems hold the advantage in many of the rope rescue operations where dedicated mains / dedicated belays are currently being used. But there are still a few situations where the dedicated main / belay system will remain the best-practice approach. It is important to train with both types to determine what works best for your response area. Two-tensioned systems require a different type of coordination between team members, but they are quickly mastered with practice.

Embrace the Changes Technology Brings Us!

Technological advances are impacting every sector of industry from microprocessors to rescue gear. Precision engineering and advances in materials have made the gear rescuers use today smaller, lighter, smoother, faster and safer than ever. Some advances are incremental, and you only recognize the progress when you look back over a long time-horizon. For example, a retired U.S. Army Ranger recently told me that when he was in Ranger School in the 1960’s, he rappelled off 60-foot towers and the only descent control technology he had was a pair of leather gloves! Clearly, we’ve come a long way since then, and the quality of devices a rescuer can use to safely control their speed during a descent is remarkable. Other technological advances are more immediately impactful and noticeable. Whether it happens slowly or rapidly, we as rescuers have a duty to always be evaluating innovative new equipment and techniques so that we can keep improving the overall effectiveness and safety of rescue operations.

 

About the Author:

Pat Furr is a Corporate Safety Officer, VPP Coordinator, Chief Instructor and technical consultant for Roco Rescue. In addition to penning articles on a variety of safety and technical rescue topics for Roco Rescue's blog, Pat teaches Confined Space Rescue, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Fall Protection programs across the country. He sits on the National Fire Protection Association’s Committee for Technical Rescue and helped author NFPA 1006, which outlines the professional qualifications standard for technical rescue personnel.

A retired U.S. Air Force MSgt/Pararescueman, Pat also helps design innovative equipment that improves safety in the industry, including a Class III rescue harness, a revolutionary fall protection harness, and a specialized anchor hook used for container access operations.

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The Petzl Maestro: An Exceptionally Well Designed Multi-Functional Device For Technical Rescuers

Monday, January 27, 2020

Petzl is set to release a brand new rescue descender called the Maestro Petzl MAESTRO-Lin late January 2020. We’ve been testing it out for a few months and wanted to share our findings. We think our readers will find this particularly relevant since the Maestro is designed specifically for technical rescue.

The Maestro is a rescue descender that provides the user with a high degree of control in a variety of applications. We found it to be adept at both lowering and hauling, and it’s rated for handling relatively heavy loads (550lbs for the S model and 615lbs for the L model).Petzl Maestro friction control and ergonomic handle

The control comes from design elements like the integrated brake and a faceted sheave, which adds friction areas for the rope so that slippage is reduced and braking power is enhanced. The device gives the user additional control over the amount of friction by changing the angle of the rope as it feeds into the device, or by wrapping the rope around the cleat/brake on the outside of the device. The intuitive and ergonomic handle and the wide range of friction options put the Maestro at the head of the class for controlling heavy rescue loads during lowering operations.

08 Roco Petzl Small bring lever forward until I feel tensionThe Maestro transitions from lowering to hauling very nicely. We like that it gives the user an auditory cue – it clicks in haul mode as the uni-directional pulley sheave moves with the rope. It’s easy to set up a 3:1 z-rig using a pulley and a rope grab like the Petzl Rescucender. This is where the Maestro really shines, thanks to the efficiency characteristics of its design. Its large-diameter sheave coupled with sealed ball bearings only allow the pulley to rotate in one direction, creating a progress-capture system that minimizes loss of haul-gains. As the user hauls the load, the Maestro’s auto-lock feature locks in the progress made, and the user can then extend the rope grab back out and continue hauling.

Petzl Maestro z-rig

We see the Maestro as being very well suited for use in dual main rope systems. These systems require a device capable of consistent and dependable friction control while providing the high efficiency hauling functions that the Maestro excels at.

The Maestro is the most intuitive device in its class. From hand and body positioning, to loading the rope into the device, the Maestro offers a high safety margin with ease of use.

Many combination devices try to do everything and end up doing nothing particularly well. Not so with the Petzl Maestro. It’s a very capable device for descent control, progress capture and belaying. It’s a multi-function tool that’s easy to use and transitions between functions beautifully. For all these reasons, we recommend the Maestro as a tool that technical rescuers should strongly consider adding to their equipment cache.

Note: The Maestro is currently available in limited quantities. Use this link to check for availability.

Note:
Thank you to Brad Warr for contributing to this article. Brad is a Roco Rescue Chief Instructor and a captain with the Nampa (Idaho) Fire Department. 

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The Latest In Fall Protection... Andy Speidel of MSA Safety on "Roco Chats With the Experts"

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Bridge Work-At-Height

Pat Furr (Roco Rescue): Good morning Andy and thanks so much for joining us today.

Andy Speidel (MSA): Oh, it’s my pleasure Pat. Thanks for inviting me.

PF: We’re going to talk about all things Fall Protection. We’ll cover the latest advances in equipment and talk about how they’ve impacted how we work at height. We’ll also touch on some recent and upcoming regulatory changes, get your take on ways readers might be able to improve their fall protection programs, and discuss how to work effectively with a safety equipment rep.

AS: Sounds great, Pat.

The Latest Innovations in Fall Protection Equipment

PF: MSA is a leader in the design and manufacture of fall protection equipment and systems, so tell us about the latest advances in equipment that may just make the end user’s job easier and safer all at once.

AS: The last several years have seen significant advances in the use of modern design and manufacturing techniques as well as the use of lighter and stronger materials such as aircraft aluminum and synthetic fibers. This has allowed MSA V-Fit Harness manufacturers to innovate and come up with products that are lightweight, easy to employ, multi-functional, and most importantly, these products are appealing to the authorized person, which ultimately encourages them to use it.

Our design team has put a lot of emphasis on making our harnesses more intuitive to don. The new lightweight materials we use make it possible to not only meet all the standards, but also to provide superior comfort, flexibility and adjustability - which ultimately allows the user to more easily don the harness.

PF: Of all the latest and greatest pieces of kit, which ones jump out as the most exciting for you?

AS: We’ve taken a huge step forward with our personal fall limiters (PFLs) V-EDGE™ Leading Edge Personal Fall Limiter through the use of Kevlar and Dyneema rope, which gives them the strength and abrasion resistance to be used in leading edge applications, while at the same time making them much lighter than earlier generations that used wire rope. Additionally, the interface allows the PFL to be used on a variety of harnesses. It’s a simple aluminum pin that slides through a web loop on the harness to make the connection.    

PF:  One of the scariest scenes I encounter when doing site visits are these Frankenstein, cobbled together horizontal lifelines. Some of them would struggle to hold up the laundry, let alone arrest a fallen worker.

AS: Horizontal lifelines must be designed, inspected and installed under the supervision of a qualified person, which I am willing to bet, some of the ones you’ve seen were not. We at MSA, as well as a few other manufacturers, are producing user-installable, pre-engineered temporary horizontal lifeline systems. These systems are typically constructed of wire or synthetic rope. They come in a variety of lengths and are very easy to deploy and recover. We have a unique system where two workers Horizontal Lifeline on the same horizontal lifeline can easily bypass each other without having to disconnect. This allows increased mobility and decreases worker interference while still maintaining 100% fall protection.

PF: I would imagine these systems include comprehensive user instructions that mandate the anchor strength requirements and detail clearance requirements?

AS: That is correct. The instructions outline the parameters for use and include calculations for clearance requirements based on the span of the line between anchors, the number of workers on the system, and the type of lanyard they’re using to connect. Our systems have either a turnbuckle or a pulley tensioning system, making it very easy to adjust the sag for the proper tightness of the line.

Equipment Advances Provide New Options For Re-Thinking Work-At-Height With The Hierarchy of Fall Protection In Mind

PF: One of the things that I see with the better fall protection equipment manufacturers is that they truly make an effort to educate the competent and qualified persons as well as the program administrators on their options for not only providing a safe and compliant solution for their employees, but also on appealing to the authorized persons. I think the big three for end users are lightweight, ease of use, and multifunctional. When you make a site visit or a presentation, it must be gratifying to see the light bulbs go on as your attendees hear the options available to them.

AS: It is and although my job entails selling equipment, I don’t approach my visits with ‘making a sale’ as my primary objective. I want to hear from the potential customer what their needs are and what their big concerns are.

PF: Are there any common themes in those discussions?

AS: Many people assume a fall arrest system is the only solution, when really we ought to take a step back and approach the problem using the hierarchy of fall protection. It’s not always possible, but quite often there’s a solution on a lower step of the hierarchy that restrains a worker from falling, or that brings some of the work to the ground – which is usually the safest solution.

Hierarchy of Fall Protection Poster

PF: That reminds me of an exercise I often do when I’m presenting on fall protection or giving a talk at a conference. I ask everyone in the audience to close their eyes and visualize whatever comes to mind as I state two words: fall protection. Then I ask them what they were visualizing.

AS: Let me guess… they say harness and fall arrest lanyard.

PF: Yep, those are the most common answers.

AS: That’s why it’s important for us to listen to the customer, assess their situation, and discuss solutions that work best for their application and provide the least amount of risk to the worker. For example, we have a lot of customers who need to regularly access a flat roof on an older structure with no perimeter guardrails or parapets. When I tell them about retrofitting guardrails such as our VersiRail system, they worry about the costs. When we discuss other options such as active restraint or even fall arrest systems and the time it takes to set up and the limited mobility they often provide, they start to see the advantages of a passive fall protection system which doesn’t require authorized person training or specialized equipment. And compared to the average cost for one fatal incident, let alone the tragedy of such an occurrence, suddenly the cost for a perimeter guardrail system sounds affordable.

VersiRail® Guardrail Systems

However, for those who still can’t justify the cost, we do have non-penetrating temporary anchors that work great on flat roofs for both active restraint and fall arrest anchors. Our Constant Force Post is one such example.

Freestanding Constant Force® Post

Ways To Improve Your Fall Protection Program

PF: What do you see as a less obvious deficiency in fall protection programs beyond the more common shortfalls such as general lack of compliance?

AS: One area that’s often overlooked is the need to read and understand the instructions for use for equipment and systems. This information is essential to ensure correct and safe usage. Not all SRLs are designed for leading edge applications. Not all personal fall limiters can be mounted at foot level. Even something as simple as proper fit of a full body harness varies from harness to harness. That’s why I encourage employers and fall protection program owners to work with a manufacturer who can help them standardize their equipment and provide follow-up support and training.

PF: That’s definitely a concern. Do you have any others that you would like to address?

AS: Greater focus on authorized person pre-use inspections. Unfortunately, OSHA only requires an annual periodic inspection be performed by a competent person for most fall protection equipment. Some systems such as horizontal lifelines need to be inspected by a qualified person. MSA recommends periodic inspection by a competent person on most pieces of equipment at 6-month intervals and depending on environmental conditions and type of wear and tear the equipment is exposed to, it can be even more frequent. We count on the authorized persons doing a thorough pre-use inspection, but often these are not being done as they should.

PF: Oh I agree 100%. I’ve seen some downright scary equipment that had no business being used on the job. My suggestion for program administrators: have your authorized persons perform the pre-use inspection on their coworker’s kit and vice versa. Nobody likes to get called out for having failed to do their job, so trading harnesses so that I inspect yours while you inspect mine creates an incentive to make sure yours is in serviceable condition.

Learn More: Equipment Inspection

 

 

Retrieval Self-Retracting Lifelines: A Primer

PF: I'd like to hear your thoughts on a piece of equipment that many end users are either unaware of, or don’t fully understand its capabilities. I'm talking about a retrieval self-retracting lifeline (RSRL).

AS: RSRLs are great in specific applications. Sometimes we are confronted with multiple hazards as defined by OSHA and ANSI. For instance, we may have a significantly high vertical entry into a permit required confined space. This involves at least two different OSHA regulations and requires certain protections as mandated by those different regs. We need to protect the entrant from the fall hazard and have a means of retrieving the entrant in the event of an emergency. In the case of the confined space regulation, if the vertical entry is greater than 5’, then the retrieval system must be a mechanical means of retrieval that is of sufficient hauling ability to lift the entrant up and out of the space. RSRLs satisfy both needs by providing fall arrest and retrieval capability.

PF: What types of anchors or anchor systems do you recommend for RSRLs in order to support a vertical confined space entrant? 

XTIRPA System for Confined Space Entry

AS: A tripod is a good choice, but for situations where there’s limited space, or some other obstruction that prevents the use of a tripod, the MSA Xtirpa system is a great way to mount either the RSRL or a straight winch system. It’s easy to set up and extremely lightweight. It’s compatible with a large assortment of mounting systems such as the manhole collar shown below, ballasted cantilever mounts, floor bolted mounts and many other options.

 

Regulatory Changes: OSHA’s Walking and Working Surfaces

PF: Let’s talk about the changes to the OSHA Walking and Working Surfaces regulation and specifically the changes to fixed vertical ladders and the shift to vertical ladder safety systems as a move away from cages and wells. What are the options for employers to retrofit these systems (without getting into the mandated timeline issues)?

AS: We have two primary ways these systems can be installed. Latchways® Vertical Ladder Lifeline Kits The first way is we can come out and install it for you, whether it’s one of our kits or it’s a custom-built system. For all applications greater than 90’, we facilitate an MSA-authorized installer to perform the installation. The second way is if a customer purchases one of our kits, they can opt to handle the installation themselves. We have kits up 90’, so they cover a lot of applications. All that’s really needed are some basic mechanical skills and the ability to follow the instructions provided within the user’s manual.

PF: I really think ladder cages are a poor solution for worker safety. I certainly wouldn’t want to fall through a ladder cage and get hung up in it. I can only imagine the horrific injuries that would result. I’m glad that OSHA has decided to make them obsolete, but I’m concerned that many employers will wait until 2036 approaches before making the move to a safer system.

AS: I agree and share your concern, Pat. Another way to meet compliance is to use a top mount davit with an SRL and tagline. This solution is an option when evaluating a vertical ladder safety system. Some companies go with this option because they’re easy to install and don’t require the user to have a front chest d-ring on their harness. V-TEC™ Mini Personal Fall Limiter Another option would be to use a twin leg personal fall limiter and clip along from rung to rung.  

Fall Protection in Residential Roofing

PF: You and I have worked together in the past up in your neck of the woods, presenting information to a variety of groups on fall protection equipment. As more safety managers see these new systems and equipment, they are very apt to provide a safer yet more user-friendly solution to their authorized workers. However, we are still seeing a particular segment of the construction industry lagging in providing compliant fall protection for their workers. That industry is residential construction and in particular residential roofing.

AS: Yes, residential roofing is clearly a segment that needs us to demonstrate that there are great solutions that not only keep their employees safe, but also make it easier for workers to do their jobs. I remember a recent conference where you had a steep angle roofing mock set up, and seeing the smiles on the faces of attendees when they realized they could let their harness support their weight instead of trying to curl their toes and hold onto the sheathing while laying felt. I think for most of them it was quite a revelation. I believe you had two different systems set up. The positioning system was simply a 5/8” lifeline with a short shock-absorbing lanyard attached to a manual rope grab. And on the other exposure you had a temporary horizontal lifeline along the peak with a leading edge SRL attached to it.

PF: Yes, but the SRL was not just any SRL. It was your V-Edge Leading Edge SRL.

AS: Yes, it was great to see the attendees’ reactions as the V-Edge followed their movement along the horizontal lifeline. In addition to the leading edge feature of that particular SRL, it also has a built-in roll-cage around the clear cable housing which allows the entire unit to pivot around a floor mounted anchor. This keeps the direction of pull or tension of the cable directly in line with the user and SRL. It works great on steep angle roofs attached to a horizontal lifeline to keep the device aligned vertically with the user as they move about the roof.

V-EDGE™ Leading Edge Self - Retracting Lifeline

Viewing Your Safety Equipment Rep As A Resource To Help Solve For Safety Concerns

PF: There’s certainly a lot of innovation happening in the fall protection equipment market. How do you recommend employers think about worker safety in the context of these new technologies?

AS: I think it’s a high return on investment exercise for employers to invite safety equipment representatives into their facility to look at different applications, almost like an audit. A good equipment rep specializes in staying on top of all the latest developments in the dynamic world of equipment and safety systems. It’s tough for an employer to do that on their own, so the safety equipment rep ideally will partner with the employer to evaluate all their concerns and help them prioritize. I’ve found employers are often pleasantly surprised with the solutions folks like me come up with, either because they didn’t think a solution existed, or because they were surprised we could make the workplace safer without impeding production.

PF: Andy, I want to thank you for having this chat with Roco Rescue and I know we have just scratched the surface of everything fall protection. I hope our readers have found this both informative and entertaining, and perhaps got them thinking about their own fall protection needs.

AS: Thanks so much for inviting me to join you today Pat. We at MSA want to ensure employers are armed with all the information they need to select the fall protection equipment and systems that best suit their needs. We love talking about how our products can be used in various applications, but most importantly how they can be used to ensure workers make it home safely.

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