The Guardian Fall Team Blog

Read any instruction manual for a Self-Retracting Lifeline and I’d bet dimes to doughnuts you’ll read about how to calculate Fall Clearance. At least you will in Guardian instruction manuals. Calculating Fall Clearance is a vital part of the proper use of an SRL, because after all, what’s the point of using fall protection if - because of poor equipment choice or practice - you hit the ground anyway? Parallel to calculating Fall Clearance is taking care to avoid potential Swing Falls. Swing Falls happen when an anchor point is not directly above the location of a fall. At the onset of a fall, gravity pulls the worker down, and as the lifeline becomes taut, the worker begins to move in a pendulum motion in a effort to bring the lifeline to a point directly below the anchor. What happens next depends on what is below the anchor. If nothing, the worker goes on a wild ride, spinning and swinging until all the energy of the fall is expended and they find themselves hanging in their harness. If there is a wall or other obstruction, the worker will swing with the combined force generated by gravity and the tension force of the anchor (meaning a greater force than falling alone) into that obstruction. The result is obvious – not good.

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words - And A Hefty Doctor Bill...

Keeping Swing Falls in mind, I submit for your consideration the following picture. Please take a moment to have a look and meet me on the other side to discuss…

Swing Fall

Where Do I Start?

Do you see any problems? While I would like to give the guy credit for being tied off and wearing fall protection, there are quite a few issues with the way he is using his gear. First, take a look at his harness. His dorsal D-ring isn’t where it is supposed to be (high on the back, between the shoulder blades), but is too low and seems to be pulled to the side, meaning his harness is too loose as well.

What about his SRL connection? He is connected to a foot-level SRL approximately 22 feet away. What will happen if this worker falls? Beuhler? Beuhler? That’s right, he will swoop down in an accelerating arc until he slams into the side of the building 22 feet below the SRL (Do you remember the abject terror you felt when your older brother intentionally swung you into the tree on your backyard swing? Me too.) Think that will hurt? Furthermore, because of the incorrect dorsal D-ring location on his harness, instead of being relatively vertical when he hits the wall, he could very well be in a Superman position and hit the wall head-on. Of course his hard hat would have fallen off so it is quite probable that when he hits, it will be his unprotected head against the wall. Not trying to be hyperbolic here folks, but that’s the reality of the situation.

What To Do...What To Do...

For all the potential cavalcade of horrors, the good news is that a) the guy didn’t fall and put all the above badness into motion, and b) there are options to make this jobsite much safer.

Let’s recognize that this is a tricky situation. Notice the worker has his hand on what appears to be a glass wall or guardrail. This means that he cannot walk perpendicular to the edge of the roof to access the edge, rather he must walk between the glass and the leading edge as he works. This creates the difficulty of getting the anchor point to move with the worker to eliminate the possibility of a swing fall. In this situation, I would recommend one of two types of Horizontal Lifelines, or HLLs.

A horizontal lifeline is a cable and anchor based system that allows the user to move freely along the distance of the cable while their anchor point moves with them, keeping it as close as possible in the event of a fall. For our daredevil in the picture, an HLL composed of a cable strung along the installed anchors (converted to pass-through style) with a Leading Edge style SRL would be an excellent option. It would not only eliminate the potential swing fall, but also eliminate the long payout of SRL cable, which could get entangled in equipment or other workers, increasing the risk of a fall.

A second option would be to install an HLL system in the field of the roof to the right of the glass wall, parallel to the edge, again with the SRL body attached the cable to allow it to move with the worker. Given the low height of the glass wall, (and provided the worker gets his dorsal D-ring up where it needs to be), he would be able to access the leading edge by walking around the glass wall and have ready access to the work area all the while being properly tied off.

Close, But No Cigar

You may have noticed the unused SRL toward the bottom of the picture. I’ll give a point or two for having it ready at the edge, but how would the worker access the SRL with the system in place without putting himself in danger? And even if he could, it still does not eliminate the possibility of a swing fall because the anchor is stationary, and it looks like this guy needs to traverse back and forth on that gravel path to do his work.

Now That You Know

Like I’ve mentioned before, the specific requirements and challenges of the jobsite will dictate which fall protection system is best.

Just because there is a fall protection system in place doesn’t mean it is the right one. Each situation requires careful evaluation by a Competent Person to ensure compatibility both during initial construction as well as for future work. So, go back and take another look at that picture and burn it into your mind. Fall, Swing, Ouch! Don’t let it happen to you. Be safe up there.