NEL Questions EU Refusal to Use Fall-Arrest Test Dummies Despite Deaths
With more than 6,800 fall from height injuries last year in the UK*, NEL, the UK’s oldest fall-arrest test laboratory, is questioning why CEN, the European Standards Body, still refuses to include human-like anthropomorphic test dummies (ATD) within its product safety standards.
In 2010, following a number of serious accidents and fatalities across Europe, the UK successfully demonstrated that the EN 353-1 standard failed to meet fundamental safety requirements and it is no longer officially recognised by the European Commission as a means to certify equipment. This standard did not require the use of ATDs and the signs are that any new standard replacing it won’t either.
In 1995 BS 5062, the UK’s test method for fall arrest equipment, which used ATDs had to be withdrawn in favour of the newly-harmonised EN 353-1. Despite UK objections, as the CEN committee saw no need for the ATD test it was deleted,.The tragedy for the families concerned is that accidents and fatalities may have been averted if the CEN committee had adopted the UK test.
Muir Porter, Business Manager, NEL, said: “The standard was a flawed compromise as its introduction as a harmonised standard in 1995 meant that it was less comprehensive than any of the British, French and German standards which it replaced.
“A key concern of ours is that there is no requirement for the use of ATDs in tests. The UK has been a world-leader in the use of ATDs in safety testing since 1947. To us, this standard was more focused on breaking down trade barriers than safety. It achieved the lowest common denominator, rather than assuring the safety of those that rely on fall-arrest equipment to save their lives.”
As the CEN standards committee struggles to draft a replacement standard and the UK continues to push for the use of ATDs, fall-arrest equipment manufacturers and operators face a dilemma. Both manufacturers and operators continue to ask NEL to test equipment using test methods based on the old BS 5062 standard, to ensure that it does not fail or contribute to a death. NEL is one of only two EU Notified Bodies that use ATDs in its fall-arrest testing.
The HSE was so concerned by technical shortcomings that it commissioned fall-arrest research to evaluate various types of test surrogate (substitutes for human beings) such as ATDs, sandbags, steel weights and torso- dummies. The research showed that dangerous aspects of a product’s performance may not be detected if ATDs are not used in tests. For example, on fixed ladders fall-arrest equipment stopped a falling weight, but not an ATD. Also, harness straps garrotted an ATD, while the torso dummy failed to reveal this life-threatening issue, because it doesn't have a neck or head.
David Riches, an independent consultant with Safety Squared, who carried out the HSE research described above, agrees with NEL’s view: “Surely it is engineering common sense that a steel weight or sandbag cannot accurately replicate how a person would fall?
“Engineers don't put steel weights into car seats to assess occupant protection, so why should they be used to assess fall protection for workers? The current EN 353-1 tests assume that when you fall from height that you fall straight down, but the human body actually falls away first, before falling downwards. Within the industry it’s hard to see a way out of this impasse, meanwhile people run the risk of being seriously or fatally injured.”
Muir Porter at NEL, concludes: “How can manufacturers and employers ensure that they provide equipment that protects workers at height if they cannot rely on the CEN safety experts to give them robust standards? When a new standard is finally agreed, despite the evidence, it seems unlikely that ATDs will be a required. When it comes to life-saving fall-arrest equipment, we want CEN to adjust its focus from easing trade barriers to the safety of workers.”
To gain a better understanding on the effectiveness of any future test standard, NEL has now been commissioned by BSIF (British Safety Industry Federation) Height Safety Group to carry out comparison tests on a series of fall arrest systems using ATDs and steel masses.
This will assess whether the steel weight tests can simulate the fall of a worker from a fixed ladder, particularly the falling-backwards motion that results when both handholds are lost, and whether the tests are capable of detecting product design deficiencies which are capable of having an adverse affect on fall-arrest performance. Both of these aspects are covered by testing which uses an ATD.
NELis a world-class provider of technical consultancy, research, testing, flow measurement and programme management services to the energy, oil & gas and manufacturing industries, as well as government.
In 1979, when BS 1397 specified the use of anthropomorphic test dummies, NEL, formerly part of the Ministry of Technology, was the only test laboratory performing fall-arrest research and testing at the time. NEL is now a notified body for undertaking CE marking and product surveillance of fall arrest equipment under the PPE European Directive 89/686/EC. It is also a UKAS-approved test house, accredited to conduct tests to EN standards.
NEL is a trading name of TUV SUD NEL Ltd, a company of the TÜV SÜD Group, an international service organisation with over 17,000 employees in more than 600 locations worldwide.