A hundred years ago, workers protected themselves from fall hazards by simply tying hemp ropes around their waists. During the latter part of the 20th century, advances in technology took the concept of a rope and put it overhead in the form of horizontal fall protection. As time passed, the natural rope was replaced with wire rope.
Now the industry is poised for the next step in fall protection evolution. One of these breakthrough innovations is the application of enclosed track, also called the rigid horizontal lifeline.
Rigid horizontal lifelines reduce and sometimes eliminate the potential for injury. These systems do not flex during a fall and do not generate any horizontal pull forces on the anchorages. This increases safety, reduces impact forces to the body, enables self-rescue, simplifies component selection and potentially eliminates fall injuries from impacts to the body as the rope deflects downward and the worker falls or swings sideways.
Rigid lifeline systems do not “expire” after a few years. Equipment maintenance is simplified as there is no re-tensioning and no oiling or lubrication required. Users visually inspect before each use (the same as with any other fall-arrest system) and thoroughly inspect once a year.
After a fall event, have a qualified person inspect the system for defective parts. Once that is complete, the rigid lifeline can be placed back into service immediately.
When a worker of average-size falls while properly using an overhead rigid lifeline and self-retracting lanyard (SRL), the worker steps back onto the walkway or work platform. This is self-rescue carried out without the help of special lifting equipment or the local fire department rescue squad.
Rigid horizontal lifelines are not currently covered under any state, national or international standards. This should change soon, as there is interest within the Z359.17 standards subcommittee to develop a dedicated standard for rigid styles of horizontal lifelines.
This new standard would address the unique requirements of rigid horizontal lifeline systems such as preventing lateral torsional buckling, accommodating dynamic lateral loading, structural analysis, specifying component compatibility, proper labeling, etc. It would also assist the EHS professional by removing any mystery and confusion involved when installing a rigid system, increasing the safety for the average fall arrest user.
If you are an EHS professional contemplating the purchase of a horizontal lifeline fall protection solution, consider a rigid lifeline system’s reduced anchorage forces, reduced fall distances, reduced swing hazards, reduced costs, simplified rescue planning, and simple selection. Remember, fall protection is not about just being OSHA compliant; it’s about maximum protection from both death and potential injuries.