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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

Guardian’s next installment of our world famous (work with us) What’s Wrong with This Picture series relates to a very common question in the industry: what self-retracting lifeline (SRL) is right for me?

Let's take a look at our picture for this quarter:

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Here’s what we see: a cable SRL is sitting on its side on the working surface, with its lifeline passed around a wooden column and through the SRL carabiner, then presumably connected to the worker’s back. (Note that the SRL shown is not a Guardian product).

So, what’s wrong with this picture?

There are two primary problems to consider here: first, the amount of free fall the SRL is rated for (and at the same time if there is a potential Leading Edge (LE) application), and second, if the SRL is rated for use in tie-back applications.

Let’s start with the free fall and LE issues.

Free fall for SRLs operates somewhat differently than for a traditional shock absorbing lanyard. ANSI defines free fall as “the act of falling before a fall protection system begins to apply forces to arrest the fall.” SRLs, we know, have a constant tension on their lifeline (hence “self-retracting”), meaning that as long as the SRL is positioned at or above the worker’s dorsal D-ring there will always be a force acting against a fall. However, if the SRL is placed below the dorsal D-ring, this tension will actually be pulling with the fall.

The SRL in this picture is located at foot level, meaning a typical 6’ worker will need to free fall approximately 5’ until their dorsal D-ring is level with the SRL and the tension on the line begins pulling against the fall (the brakes engaging a split-second thereafter). This means that the SRL must be at minimum rated to withstand a 5’ free fall.

Ultimately, it is up to the manufacturer to determine how much free fall their SRL is rated for. For Guardian SRLs, the only units that are rated for free fall are also those rated for use in LE applications. So let’s put a pin in the free fall discussion for a minute to briefly discuss LE applications.

A LE application is one in which the potential exists for the lifeline to impact the edge of the fall hazard. This creates a focal point for the forces of a fall, and can potentially result in the breaking of the lifeline. According to ANSI Z359.14-14 (which is specific to SRLs), SRLs rated for use in LE applications must have a shock absorber integrated into the lifeline (though other shock absorber designs are permitted if the manufacturer determines the SRL will still meet all performance requirements).

Guardian has also determined through extensive product testing that SRL-LEs must have cable lifelines, since webbing does not typically possess the structural integrity needed to withstand impact with sharp edges. And finally, the manufacturer must rate the SRL as suitable for use in LE applications.

With that said, let’s think about how the LE question applies to our picture. While we can’t see the edge, it’s hard to imagine any scenario where, if the worker were to fall, the lifeline wouldn’t impact the edge. If the SRL is sitting on the work surface and set back from the edge, it will virtually always result in a LE application.

So, according to our definition of a SRL-LE, is the right equipment being used?

Unfortunately, we can’t say for sure based on the picture alone; the end of the lifeline that connects to the worker is out of view. But, thanks to Guardian’s magical deductive skills (we spoke to the end user), we can tell you for sure that it does not. This means that this unit is not permitted to be used in the application shown.

That then leaves us with our other concern, which is whether or not the unit shown is rated to be tied-back around a structural anchor. While there are some specific design conditions for tie-back units, their primary differentiating factor is simply that they are rated to be used in tie-back applications by the manufacturer. Guardian tie-back units are also manufactured with a hook with a specially designed wider nose that better facilitates the passage of the lifeline. The myth occasionally gets circulated that the gates of hooks used on tie-back units must be rated to withstand a minimum 5,000 lb. load, however this is untrue. Tie-back hooks must be rated to withstand a minimum 3,600 lb. load at the gate and a 5,000 lb. load along the major axis, just like all other hooks.

According to the end user we spoke with, the unit was not rated to be used as a tie-back SRL The manufacturer’s permitted uses of a product will always take precedence over improvised uses, so the unit shown should not have been used in this manner.

How can we fix this?

Our first concern should be finding a proper anchorage connector to attach to, since the installation around the wooden column is not permitted. An overhead anchor is always ideal because it helps to reduce free fall, but if that isn’t an option then a simple beam strap will work great. Connect the SRL to the D-ring of the beam strap and we have an easy and compatible connection.

And second, in relation to LE use, there are two choices to consider. One option is to use a different SRL that is rated for use in LE applications. Otherwise, at least for Guardian SRLs, a shock absorber extension can be attached to the lifeline to transform it to a model rated for LE use. However, always check with your equipment manufacturer if the use of a shock absorber extension in this manner is something they permit.

Some pretty easy fixes for a very avoidable case of misuse!

What's Wrong With This Picture? - Solved by Guardian!