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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

We frequently see interior applications of overhead fall protection systems in the aviation, bus, and railcar industries. Typically, workers in these industries will need to perform routine and emergency maintenance on top of the equipment which can present itself as a fall hazard. Due to the nature of this type of maintenance, the inclusion of passive fall protection systems such as guardrails is not possible. As a result, overhead fall protection systems are commonly installed to provide safe access for these workers.

When considering what fall protection system to utilize, both the range and mobility of access need to be considered. If workers need to only access one specific point, than an overhead single anchor point should be used because it will keep costs minimal while still providing a safe system. However, if wide-spread access, such as needing to travel along the length of a fuselage, is required than an overhead lifeline system would be the best option because disconnecting and reconnecting to multiple anchor points isn’t a viable solution.

To determine the best overhead lifeline system, the most important factor to consider is fall clearances. When you consider that workers are commonly kneeling to perform their tasks and other fall obstructions can potentially exist, stopping a worker’s fall as fast as possible is an absolute necessity.

In order to stop a worker’s fall as quickly possible a number of things must be optimized:

  1. The tie-off point should be located directly (or at least nearly directly) overhead
  2. A self-retracting lifeline (SRL) should be utilized
  3. An overhead lifeline system with minimal sag should be considered

In reference to item three on that list, a rigid lifeline system is the safest option for overhead applications.

A rigid lifeline has sag, or vertical deflection, in the event of a fall of essentially zero where as a cable lifeline can create several additional feet of drop distance which significantly increases the worker’s risk of injury in the event of a fall. Even a short run of an overhead cable lifeline needs at least fifteen feet of clearance to the ground below.

There are several misperceptions surrounding the rigid lifeline that would cause the average architect to stray, including: (1) it is too difficult to install, (2) it requires a more extensive structural analysis, and (3) it is too expensive. All of which are false!

Rigid lifelines are very easy to install with scissor lifts and attaching the system will typically not require drilling any holes into the existing structure as long as appropriate beam clamps are utilized. If the rigid lifeline needs to be mounted via hanger assemblies that utilize threaded rod then some sway & thrust bracing is required. The purpose of the sway and thrust bracing is to prevent the threaded rods from being overloaded in the event of a fall.

Structural analysis of rigid lifelines are much easier to conduct as loads are transferred more evenly to hanger points rather than cable lifelines that can have large end anchor loads in the event of a fall. As an example of this, the vertical factored arresting force of a rigid lifeline is frequently around 2,500 pounds where a horizontal lifeline without a shock absorber can have an end anchor load of around 10,000 pounds.

And, depending on the application, rigid lifelines can be less expensive than cable lifelines. Pricing comparisons can vary based on a number of factors so please contact an ESG associate today for project specific proposals.

Another item to consider is usability. Rigid lifelines offer two huge advantages in this department; dual-pass systems are currently available that allow workers to pass each other hands-free and cable intermediates do not impede workers as the rigid track is smooth and continuous. Both of these are huge benefits, especially if workers are spending twelve hours a day tied into a system.

By providing true hands-free use, worker bypass, and minimal fall clearances; rigid lifeline systems are substantially safer and more worker friendly than horizontal lifelines for overhead interior applications.

So if you need help eliminating an interior hazard with an overhead system, please contact ESG who will help provide you with the turn-key solution to meet your needs.