Pinnacle Safety and Training Blog

New ARAA technical recommendation - backup devices

ARAA Technical Guidance Note 14.11.12

Rope Access | Appropriate Connection Points for Fall-Arrest (Back Up) Devices

At the recent 2012 ARAA AGM it was reiterated to all attendees that the back-up device we use in our twin rope systems will, in the event of a main line failure, be arresting a free fall that is highly likely to be greater than 600mm. This is undeniable and implies that this device should then only be connected to a specified free-fall arrest point on a given full body harness.

A motion was placed and subsequently passed unanimously by 22 attendees, that the ARAA should endorse a change in practice stipulating that such backup devices should only be attached to the sternal or dorsal attachment points of a full-body harness (NB the ventral attachment point is not a rated free-fall attachment point on any of the harnesses used for rope access).

This change is already partially in place by default; Petzl ASAP's are required by the manufacturer to be attached sternally or dorsally via a proprietary energy absorber. Further, this change will bring ARAA practice in line with other similar organizations such as SPRAT who have had this policy in place for a number of years.

This guidance note then seeks to outline the rationale for this decision, the specific nature of what it entails and who is affected by it.

Fall arrest or ‘back up’ devices used during rope access works shall be connected either to the sternal (S in diagram below) or in limited cases dorsal (D in diagram below) attachment points of the operator’s harness. Whilst it has been extremely common in the past (& still is at present) for fall arrest type devices to be attached to the end of a ventrally (V in diagram) anchored lanyard this method is largely untenable. Certainly no form of fall arrest device may ever be used attached to a single lateral (L in diagram) attachment point.

Research, testing and anecdotal evidence stretching back more than a decade has demonstrated that ventral connection in a fall arrest situation, and subsequent post fall suspension, has significant limitations. Fall arrest forces may in certain circumstances be greater than an adult human body can withstand without injury if applied to the lower spine / pelvic region. To compound this issue, post fall suspension of a semi or unconscious person ventrally would place the individual in an extreme position of hyperextension (waist high, head and feet low). This position may lead to a host of issues, not the least of which being a compromised airway.

Dorsal attachment is always an option in certain circumstances but needs to weighted against the inherent risks. Post fall dorsal suspension places an operator at great risk of Harness Hang Syndrome (Compression Avascularisation Re-Perfusion Syndrome) and could make self-rescue very difficult if not impossible.

Sternal attachment of one or more fall arrest devices will potentially give the highest margin of security & place the operator in the most appropriate post fall suspension position.

All fall arrest type devices used for rope access works need to be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If in doubt technicians should consult the information included with the product or on the manufacturer’s website.

What does this mean?

  1. ARAA strongly recommends all rope access operators and supervisors in the field adhere to this policy.
  2. Assessment candidates undergoing ARAA Level 1, 2 or 3 assessments will be awarded a major discrepancy (and hence a fail result) if they use a fall arrest / back up device attached ventrally during suspended works.

Further information
For more information please contact ARAA via email links found at

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