Staying up high with fall safety

Test dummies have to withstand countless falls to ensure that the company motto of the BORNACK Group remains true for its climbing customers.

Nicolai Stickdorn allows the test torso to fall. Photo: Martin Stollberg

Nicolai Stickdorn allows the test torso to fall. Photo: Martin StollbergNicolai Stickdorn is impressed. The 32-year old DEKRA test engineer specializes in personal protective equipment (PPE) for fall protection and has just arrived for the first time at the HOCHWERK, the BORNACK Group’s training and development center, which is located in Marbach in southern Germany. The 90-meter-long listed building has three naves and is the perfect example of an industrial cathedral. It is the boiler building of a former steam power plant, which was shut down in 1981. The impressive structure is now used by the BORNACK Group for indoor training in the field of fall safety.

Training courses are held regularly in the HOCHWERK

Stickdorn lets his eyes wander and discovers the police helicopter neatly parked between two floors of the building. One floor above it, the cabin of another helicopter is visible. The helicopter is used by members of the emergency services to carry out rescue exercises in realistic conditions. On the other side of the building, at a height of almost 35 meters above the ground, people are climbing special ladders to learn about ladder safety equipment. As an expert in the field, Stickdorn can see what is happening even from a distance. Another group of people are literally hanging from ropes between two floors. They are practicing the aerial rescue of someone who has had an accident.

Training courses like this are held here regularly, because in exposed workplaces like the nacelle of a wind turbine, the injured person’s co-workers are the first people who can provide expert help in an emergency. One member of the group is Ulrich Schwarz, a project engineer at Vodafone. In order to keep the mobile phone network up-to-date and to continue expanding it, he and his colleagues frequently have to climb up phone masts and onto roofs. “We come here once a year to refresh our knowledge of rescuing people from ladders and platforms,” he says.

They are not frightened by their work, “but it is important to be aware of what could happen and to follow the rules,” explains the experienced engineer. The 51-year-old has been working in this field for almost half his life and is full of praise for the fall safety equipment that is available now. He says that the harness systems are much more comfortable to climb in than when he first started. “You can do much more when you’re wearing them and I feel completely safe.” This is positive feedback following more than 50 years of ongoing development.

“DEKRA EXAM is a flexible and competent partner.”

Klaus Bornack, CEO of the BORNACK Group. Photo: Martin Stollberg

Klaus Bornack, CEO of the BORNACK Group. Photo: Martin Stollberg

During this period, the BORNACK Group has become one of the leading suppliers of fall safety products. In 1964, the manufacturer launched the world’s first rope shortener, which effectively reduced the impact force of a fall on the safety line. Today the company offers several different ranges of fall arresters that perform the same function. Its FALLSTOP SAFETY and FALLSTOP RESCUE product families, which consist of safety and rescue equipment, are intended for commercial climbers and members of the rescue services, while FALLSTOP ADVENTURE provides equipment for leisure facilities, such as adventure parks, and the company’s subsidiary SAFEPOINT supplies stationary securing systems for buildings.

Fall test with a torso weighing 100 kilos

BORNACK also has a number of highly specialized products intended to protect people working in boilers or shafts. It goes without saying that equipment which could save lives has to undergo thorough testing before it can be approved. In this area, BORNACK has been working with DEKRA EXAM for some time. The DEKRA experts certify the products and are often asked to contribute their testing expertise during the development phase. Some tests are carried out at the DEKRA lab in Bochum, but the engineers also have everything they need to do their job at the BORNACK HOCHWERK.

Nicolai Stickdorn recognizes this immediately: “The facilities here are just amazing!” Today he is carrying out a fall test with a harness and a torso weighing 100 kilos. Together with Matthias Schäfgen, he attaches the heavy test dummy to a crane and suspends it above a 10-meterdeep shaft. Schäfgen is studying mechanical engineering and is in the process of writing his master’s thesis on the subject of test situations and the differing influences on industry standard tests of fall arresters and harnesses. He was also able to carry out several tests here and learned how to interpret the measurement data.

The blue torso is now suspended over the shaft and is completely immobile. The safety line is attached to the ring on the harness. The fastening is released using compressed air and the torso falls rapidly. After around four meters, the rope stops the fall and the torso moves up a little way, jerking and twitching wildly, until finally it is hanging vertically on the rope with its head upwards (if it had one). This fall would not have caused any serious injuries, although under the terms of the standard it was a simulation of an extreme fall with a high impact force. Stickdorn now checks the stitching on the main and secondary harness and, as he expected, everything is in perfect condition.

RFID-Chips make the process of documenting audits easier. Photo: Martin StollbergDipl.-Ing. Ulrich Schwarz taking part in the training course on ladder and safety equipment. Foto: Martin StollbergNicolai Stickdorn prepares the test torso. Photo: Martin StollbergThe helicopter is used by members of the emergency services to carry out rescue exercises. Photo: Martin StollbergThe test torso weighs 100 kilogram. Photo: Martin StollbergMeasurement data is interpreted at the computer. Photo: Martin StollbergThe HOCHWERK is used not only for training, but also as a venue for events. Photo: Martin Stollberg

Professionals can climb the 150-meter-high power plant chimney in a harness

One interesting feature is the integral RFID chip in the main harness. It contains all the information about the harness, including the type designation, production batch, and serial number, and can easily be read during the annual safety test required by law. In a harness of this kind, professionals can climb the 150-meter-high power plant chimney on the training site without having to worry about their safety. The CEO of the group, Klaus Bornack, is also on site today. In a futuristic glass-walled room that the company has constructed inside the building he is holding a specialist seminar on suspension trauma. This condition can be caused by a fall on a rope and the injured person’s co-workers must know what to do. Wearing his harness, Klaus Bornack is giving a presentation to an audience of safety engineers, fi re service team members, specialists from energy supply companies, and people who work in highbay warehouses.

He is pleased to see DEKRA here because: “We work well together. The DEKRA experts are creative and flexible. Their approach fits in perfectly with our processes and our requirements, which allows us to develop innovative products without unnecessary complications. I also appreciate the high level of professionalism of the DEKRA employees, particularly when they are working on special projects.” This trust is mutual, because 300 engineers from DEKRA Automobil GmbH recently visited BORNACK for a training course. They also have to be able to use PPE and were enthusiastic about the detailed and motivational training they had received. As a service provider we also became a customer. The link between our two organizations is their joint focus on safety.

Dirk Wessels, head of marketing and sales of DEKRA EXAM GmbH. Photo: Martin Stollberg

Dirk Wessels, head of marketing and sales of DEKRA EXAM GmbH. Photo: Martin Stollberg

Three questions for Dirk Wessels

Dirk Wessels head of marketing and sales, DEKRA EXAM GmbH.

What role does DEKRA EXAM play with regard to PPE (personal protective equipment)? We are an EU notified body responsible for testing and certifying personal protective equipment under the terms of the PPE directive. In addition to fall protection equipment, we also test respiratory equipment for the fire service and protective cloth­ing. Our engineers are responsible for ensur­ing that workplaces are safe where PPE is used to protect people’s lives.

Where does today’s fall test fit in? It is part of the EU conformity assessment procedure that is needed for the product to be CE-marked. This will change from 2017 onwards,
because then the EU type-examination certificate will be introduced, which will be based on the PPE regulation.

Looking to the future, will the digital revolution affect your business? You saw the RFID chip on the harness today. It would also be possible to fit sensors to harnesses that measure specific parameters and send the results to a computer. Fire service employees use protective equipment that informs their team leaders about the air supply they have available. The e digital revolution has already arrived.

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