Much fall protection coverage has been given to harnesses and anchorage points, but the critical connection between these two — the lanyard — merits careful consideration.

The lanyard is a connecting device, a flexible line to secure a full-body harness or body belt, where permitted, to a point of anchorage. There are two basic categories of lanyards: non-shock-absorbing and shock-absorbing. The more common and safer type is the shock-absorbing lanyard, which comprises the majority of all lanyards sold today.

Shock-absorbing lanyards lengthen during a fall, significantly reducing fall-arresting forces by 65 percent to 80 percent, below the threshold of injury, as specified by OSHA and recommended by ANSI. One of the most reliable constructions includes a special shock-absorbing inner core material surrounded by a heavy-duty tubular outer jacket that doubles as a back-up web lanyard. In accordance with OSHA regulations, all lanyards made today are required to have self-closing, self-locking snap hooks to reduce the possibility of unintentional disengagement, or “roll-out.”

Shock-absorbing “packs” also are commonly available, which can be attached or, in some cases, built-in to non-shock-absorbing lanyards to give them shock-absorbing capability. Should a fall occur, an inner core smoothly tears or rips to slow the fall. Better models feature a back-up safety strap inside the pack for greater security.

Selection criteria

To select the appropriate lanyard for a specific application, consider the following factors:
  • Your company’s fall protection plan may have specific requirements in addition to those of OSHA.
  • The type of work being performed and the specific conditions of the work environment, including the presence of moisture, dirt, oil, grease, acids and electrical hazards, as well as the ambient temperature. For example, steel cable lanyards are particularly strong, heat-resistant and durable; however, they are not suitable for use around high-voltage sources because they readily conduct electricity.
  • Potential fall distance. This distance is greater than most people think, since the length of the lanyard plus the length that the shock absorber will elongate during deceleration both must be considered.
  • The compatibility of system components. A personal fall arrest system should be designed and tested as a complete system. Components produced by different manufacturers may not be interchangeable.
  • Selection criteria also should include a scrutiny of product quality. For example, OSHA regulations call for limiting fall forces on an individual wearing a full-body harness to 1,800 pounds. Likewise, ANSI Z359.1 standards for equipment manufacturers suggest that non-shock-absorbing lanyards limit fall forces to 1,800 pounds, an infeasible option with commercially available lanyard materials, and 900 pounds for shock-absorbing lanyards. Most reputable lanyard manufacturers design to the 900-pound standard, and state this on the label of the lanyard. While OSHA regulations are the law and are enforced by a federal agency, ANSI standards are self-enforced by individual manufacturers — there is no enforcement body, and no inspectors. Hence, the buyer cannot take stated performance per ANSI guidelines for granted.

Proper use and testing

OSHA requires training employees in the proper use of a fall arrest system. When it comes to the proper use and inspection of lanyards, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The following guidelines may provide clarification:
  • The typical working load of shock-absorbing lanyards is 310 pounds, unless otherwise stated.
  • The lanyard should only be connected to the back D-ring on the full-body harness.
  • Snap hooks with gate openings larger than one inch should not be connected to D-rings.
  • The other end of the lanyard should be connected to the anchorage or anchorage connector. Make sure connections are compatible with regard to the manufacturer.
  • Make certain that the lanyard has not been deployed or exceeds the length specified by the manufacturer.
  • Do not use lanyards with non-locking snap hooks. OSHA now requires self-locking snap hooks.
  • Always visually check that snap hooks and carabiners freely engage D-rings and anchor points, and that keepers are completely closed and locked.
  • Be certain that the snap hook is positioned so that its keeper is never load bearing from the front or side.
  • Never disable or restrict snap hook locking keepers or alter the lanyards.
  • Do not attach multiple lanyards together, never attach a lanyard back onto itself, and never tie knots in lanyards.
  • Never use a lanyard for purposes other than those for which it was designed.
  • Always check for obstructions below the work area to make sure that the potential fall path is clear. (When connected overhead, you will typically need 18-1/2’ of fall clearance to safely use a lanyard.)