Fall arrest protection: where, when and how to choose Self-Retracting Lifelines

There are many scenarios where working at height is simply unavoidable and some of the most hazardous work sees operatives working on top of an elevated surface or structure. It’s here where selecting the correct fall arrest solution is critical.

Despite significant advances in risk awareness and safety technology, falls from height remain a significant cause of injury and death. According to the HSE’s figures for fatal injuries in Great Britain for 2019-20, 29 workers suffered fatal injuries as a result of falling from height – that’s just over 26% of all UK fatalities in the workplace. Over the last five years, falls from a height have accounted for 26% of all fatal accident injuries (an average of 37 fatal injuries per year)[1]. Over 60% of deaths when working at height involve falls from ladders, scaffolds, working platforms, roof edges and through fragile roofs[2].

Hierarchy of control

The hierarchy of fall protection is the starting point to determine what type of approach to working at height is required – and why.

  1. The preferred solution is elimination.
  2. Passive fall protection: Physical barriers like guardrails.
  3. Fall restraint systems: Erected so that a fall cannot occur, using PPE to restrict the worker’s movement.
  4. Fall arrest systems: Where a fall can occur, but the fall is arrested within acceptable force and clearance margins.

Why self-retracting lifelines?

One of the most effective and widely used fall arrest solutions today is the Self-Retracting Lifeline (SRL). Accounting for around a fifth of the 420 million Euro fall protection market[3], SRLs are replacing lanyards and rope grabs as they typically last longer, retract on movement, offer faster lock on and are easier to store.

A synthetic line or metallic cable attached to the worker’s harness automatically extends and retracts from a floor or overhead anchored container unit as the worker moves. In the event of a sudden fall, the product will ‘lock on’ to arrest the force of the fall, and an energy absorption system will then limit the impact of that force on the body of the worker in the harness.

The working environment

One of the first factors to consider when specifying the correct SRL system is the application and environment. In a coastal location, for instance, continuous exposure to saltwater vapour poses the risk of accelerated corrosion for metal parts. SRL specification options available from MSA, for example, include the use of sealed casings, military-grade plastics and high-grade S4 stainless steel components providing additional barriers against corrosion.

Understanding SRL anchors

An SRL will always be attached to an anchor, such as:

  • Overhead: SRL attached to a carabiner or point above the workspace.
  • Foot level: Anchor positioned at foot level, with the SRL attached.

Understanding your anchor point is the first step in making an appropriate product choice – you need to consider where the anchor is, how far it is away from the working point and from the edge.

Matching the application

SRLs are inherently versatile and used across a wide range of industries and horizontal, overhead, and leading edge applications. From vertical access via pylons, turbines, water towers and confined spaces, to loading and maintenance bays, assembly lines, rooftops and across the construction industry, SRLs can help to take the guesswork out of equipment selection.

Another factor to consider is fall clearance – the minimum vertical distance required between a worker’s feet and a lower level, which can also vary at different points on the working area. An SRL can accommodate significant variance since it remains under tension and automatically adjusts the line.

Quality design enhances performance and reduces cost

Ultimately, the design of an SRL directly impacts safety and whole service-life cost. While technically all products are certified to the same standard, economy priced PPE is much less likely to offer the same performance and durability as higher quality solutions.

Investing in the best equipment can yield lifetime savings and result in lower total cost of ownership. For example, equipment that is inherently designed to be serviceable in the field and minimise repair times can dramatically reduce costly downtime and delays.

By placing this philosophy of quality front-of-mind, SRLs by MSA Safety incorporate innovative features that add value. By fabricating the outer casing in clear, engineering-grade plastic, it’s easy to inspect the mechanism. For leading edge SRLs, a roll cage protects the housing. Internal components like the cable, energy absorber and retraction dampener can be replaced on site – reducing maintenance and repair times and eliminating the need for holding backup devices. The energy-absorbing technology requires no additional calibration or adjustment, whilst retraction dampening limits the cable speed protecting internal parts from wear and damage.

To learn more and try a free sample of an MSA SRL on your worksite please click – here


[1] Health and Safety Executive, Fatal injuries in Great Britain

[2] Health and Safety Executive, Working at height

[3] Frost and Sullivan, Analysis of Western European Fall Protection Market, Forecast to 2021

Mark Lambert
Author: Mark Lambert

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