8 Things to Know Before You Install a Horizontal Lifeline System

overview of horizontal lifeline system

Installing a horizontal lifeline is much like buying a house for the first time.

You're told it's better than renting, and the mortgage payment is less, so it must be better. You know you need to pay taxes, unlike before, but escrow makes that easy.

So, you buy the house. Immediately, the roof starts to leak, a squirrel makes its home in your attic, mold reveals itself under your sink, and the oven stops working...all at the same time.

The reality of what it means to own a home hits you and you feel like the wool was pulled over your eyes. If only someone had told you what was truly involved, then you could have been better prepared.

This is why you are here...to be better prepared.

Many parts of a safe horizontal lifeline installation are omitted, forgotten, or unknown. Here are just a few of these items.

  • Regular Inspections, both before use and annually
  • Certifications by a qualified person if inspections fail
  • Training multiple people at various levels and intervals
  • The effect on the roof, its warranty, and damage to the interior of the building if sealing the anchor fails
  • A proper rescue, including the cost of equipment and the use of professional agencies, as necessary. Plus, more training

We took the time to boil down eight things that you need to know to have an effective safety system.

  1. The Basics – Standard definitions and concepts
  2. Fall Clearances – How far can a user fall?
  3. Roles – Who is responsible for what?
  4. Design – What will the system look like?
  5. Rescue Plan – What to do in case of an emergency
  6. Inspection and Maintenance – Making sure that your system stays effective
  7. Training – Making sure that your people stay effective
  8. Record Keeping – The value of knowing it was done

The Basics of Horizontal Lifelines

Standard definitions and concepts

First things first, let’s talk about responsibility. If you are an employer, you have total responsibility for your people. When it comes to a horizontal lifeline, you are responsible if it is on your roof or if your workers will be using one on someone else’s roof. Make no mistake, there is no way for an employer to shift responsibility.

Secondly, if you are an employee, you have the right to work safely. You should settle for nothing less. Don’t be afraid to raise concerns or ask for proof that a method of work is safe.

You have the authority to ask questions of the people involved. Make sure that you are satisfied with the documentation and explanations that you are given. If you’re not sure, then ask questions.

Regulations:

There are two entities that help us understand what is needed for a safe fall protection system: OSHA and ANSI.

OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration whose mission is to create safe and healthy work conditions for employees. This is the organization that sets the requirements that you must follow. OSHA is the reason why employers are fully responsible for the safe implementation of a lifeline system.

With that said, OSHA can be vague or limited in depth. Where the OSHA code leaves us with questions, other standards bodies (ANSI, IBC, and others) come into play. These bodies lack the teeth that OSHA has. They cannot fine or imprison anyone, but they do color in the regulations in helpful ways. Because of this, OSHA also has a “General Duty Clause”. This clause simply states that an employer must furnish its employees:

"employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees..."

Based on this clause, other standards may be enforced if they are readily known and accepted by the industry. When it comes to horizontal lifelines and work at height in general, ANSI is the primary body that produces and continuously updates guidance that is accepted and followed by most manufacturers, safety professionals, and even OSHA where applicable. Even though ANSI does not have the ability to enforce its standards, we strongly recommend following them. They are there for an employee’s protection and can be used against an employer by OSHA if there ever was an accident.

ANSI is the American National Standards Institute. Their goal is to provide a better quality of life through a voluntary set of standards and assessments. ANSI does not have the authority to enforce these standards, but OSHA does. Also, local building codes often adopt ANSI standards as their own, citing specific standards and when they apply.

OSHA is the minimum standard that you need to comply with. ANSI raises that bar.

Definitions:

Here are some common terms that you'll encounter in this process.

Every personal fall protection system is made up of 3 components: an anchor, a body harness, and a connector.

An anchor (or anchorage in many codes) is a secure point of attachment that can withstand the forces applied to it by a fall protection system. The number of anchors that you need for a lifeline system will depend on the area you are working in and the lifeline system that you choose to use. All anchors should be able to support 5,000 pounds per user attached or have a safety factor of two as part of a complete fall protection system under the supervision of a qualified person.

A body harness is the gear that the user wears that is designed to support the user during and after a fall. Often, harnesses are designed to support users and their tools up to 310 pounds. There are safety harnesses that can support more. Be conscious of the weight needed for a harness and ensure the harness you use can support the worker and his/her gear. Also, the work that you are doing may require a specialty harness, like electrical work or welding.

A connector is a device, like a safety lanyard or rope with a rope grab, that connects the user to the anchor or lifeline. Connectors take a number of forms and have various risks if you choose the wrong one. Some include deceleration devices to be used in arrest and some do not have these and should never be used in fall arrest.

To simplify code, the breaking strength for connectors should be 5,000 pounds or more. D-rings, snaphooks, and carabiners need to be able to withstand 3,600 pounds without cracking or incurring permanent deformation.

Any one of these components will need to comply with OSHA 1910.140. The American National Standard (ANSI) will have a deeper understanding of OSHA code for both employers and manufacturers. Make sure that the equipment that you use states compliance with OSHA and ANSI Z359 standards. Which types of these individual components you use will depend on whether you are working in fall arrest or restraint.

Restraint is when you design the system so that the authorized user is prevented from being able to reach the fall hazard. A good best practice is to prevent the user from getting within 2 feet of the fall hazard.

Arrest is when you design the system to catch, or arrest, the user in the event of a fall. You will need to make sure that the system is designed so that the maximum force applied to the user is 1800 pounds. This prevents death and minimizes injury when used properly, but it does not eliminate injury.

These are some of the basics that you need to know.

Fall Clearance of a Horizontal Lifeline System

How far can a user fall?

Understanding how clearances affect the safety of your fall protection plan is often an overlooked concern. It doesn't matter how much you want to use a lifeline system if you don’t have the clearance to support it.

This is the first pass or fail test for your horizontal lifeline system. If a user were to fall over the edge, then is there enough clear space for them to fall without connecting with the level below? If the user falls off-center and it causes them to swing to a standstill, then what objects, if any, could they come in contact with?

Let’s dive into how to calculate a safe fall clearance.

Total Fall Clearance and how to calculate it

The total fall clearance is how far someone can safely fall before they hit a lower level. The calculation for this includes the free fall, deceleration distance, D-ring shift, D-ring height, and safety margin.

The free fall is the distance the user falls before the system engages. This should not exceed 6 feet unless it is designed to do so. Add the height between the anchor and the user's D-ring to the length of the lanyard to determine your free fall.

The sag of the lifeline will need to be included. If you are using a rope grab, then add the distance before it engages to the total as well.

The deceleration distance is the length that the lanyard stretches to safely arrest the fall. The most common example of this is a shock pack, which can stretch up to 42 feet.

The D-ring shift is the amount that the harness stretches, and the D-ring moves when it fully supports the user's weight. This is typically considered to be 1 foot, but you will need to check with the manufacturer to be sure.

The D-ring height is the height between the D-ring and the sole of the user's foot when standing upright. This is standardized to be 5 feet when referencing a 6-foot user. You will need to make the necessary adjustments depending on the height of the user, especially if they are over 6 feet in height.

The safety margin is an extra amount of height that you add into the fall clearance to ensure that the user does not contact a lower level. It is not clearly stated in the code what that clearance should be, but it is typically 2 feet. Check with the manufacturer to determine if that number should be different.

Swing Falls

When a person falls from a direction that is not directly perpendicular to the anchor and the edge, then a pendulum effect is created. The drop in distance will need to be considered with the fall clearance calculation. More importantly, any potential obstructions that a user can swing into will need to be considered. Severe injury can occur during a swing fall if the user were to strike an object.

I mentioned earlier that you are responsible for this. However, the good news is that you don't have to do this alone. In fact, OSHA requires that you don't do this alone.

Next, we'll talk about the different roles that are here to help you.

Roles

Who is responsible for what?

OSHA says that you are to ensure that a personal fall protection system is designed, installed, and used under the supervision of a qualified person.

ANSI says that the employer is to identify a competent person(s) and an authorized person(s).

Each of these roles is critical to the success of a personal fall protection system. OSHA gives definitions for each of the roles, but they only state the requirement for a qualified person. ANSI says that you need to have all three in your fall protection plan.

When working on a safety project, it is best to assume that you will need to follow the strictest standard. This is to ensure both you and your company are following regulatory and industry-specific best practices. When in doubt, check with a fall protection specialist for clarification on what standards you need to follow.

Let's review each of them and how they help you in this process.

A qualified person is someone who has the education and experience to recognize and resolve fall-related problems. Often, this will be an engineer. This person will help you determine what fall safety systems to use and whether the structure you are going to attach them to will be able to support them correctly.

There is no compliant personal fall protection system without the involvement of a qualified person.

The qualified person does not need to be present whenever the systems are used or inspected, but they do need to make sure that installation and use are performed correctly. The inspection, supervision of installation, and use oversight duties can be shared with the competent person.

A competent person is someone who has the education to identify hazards, both existing and predictable. A competent person can gain this education through a training course that typically takes 2 days.

You will give this person the authority to take decisive action, like stopping work immediately, as these hazards are found.

A competent person will be responsible for regular inspections of the equipment and training of authorized users.

An authorized user is someone who has the training to use fall protection equipment and has the authority to access areas where such equipment is required.

They will be trained in how to inspect the equipment before each use. An authorized user will be able to recognize additional hazards and bring them to the attention of the competent person.

These roles are critical to a proper implementation of a lifeline system. It’s also important to note that the qualified person and the competent person can be the same individual.

Horizontal Lifeline System Design

What will the lifeline system look like?

The design, engineering, and installation of the horizontal lifeline system are where your qualified person will come in. They will need to consider:

  • The components of the lifeline system that will be used
  • The site conditions for both layout and attachment
  • The proper installation based on both the aforementioned items
  • The proper use of the system after it is installed

Components

Just like you're not alone in the implementation of the personal fall protection system, the qualified person is not alone in the design.

Manufacturers take a lot of responsibility for the engineering and design of the individual components for a lifeline system, including compliance with OSHA and ANSI standards.

The length of the lifeline may require additional anchors to be placed along the lifeline to reduce the swing fall hazard mentioned earlier. These intermediate anchors can come with a pass-through mechanism that allows the user to walk by each anchor without having to unsnap.

However, you may need to be a bit more budget-conscious when considering a lifeline system. You choose to use a system where the user needs to unhook whenever they come to an anchor. This isn't a problem if you use a double-legged lanyard. This will allow the user to always be tied off when making transitions.

You may have just had a brand-new roof installed and you can't stomach the idea of putting holes into it. Then, you'll want to consider a non-penetrating lifeline system. These systems do come with limitations as well. You can't use them in frozen conditions or with standing water.

Regardless of the system that you choose, you should make sure that it is compliant with OSHA and ANSI standards. Documentation can and should be provided before a purchase is finalized.

Site Conditions

You may have the best fall protection system on the market. But, if your structure can't support it, then you still have nothing.

The qualified person will specify what types of anchors (i.e., bolts or welding) to use to fasten the system to the structure. This can affect where the lifeline is placed, which, in turn, can affect how the work may need to be done.

There is more to the layout than just where the system mounts. The environment will also need to be considered. The presence of acids, dirt and other substances will need to be evaluated. Weather conditions, be they snowstorms, hurricanes, or desert heat, will also be a factor. For instance, I would not want to be connected to a steel wire near an active electrical hazard.

Let's not forget about the fall clearance requirements and swing fall hazards we already talked about.

Installation

A qualified person will need to make sure that the system is installed according to their design. Some manufacturers, like Kee Safety Inc, require a certified installer to make sure that it is done correctly. Certifications can and should be performed after the installation is complete to ensure that it was done correctly.

Implementation

After the system is installed, training should happen to ensure the proper use of the system. A competent person will need to be trained so that they can instruct and monitor the authorized users. Beyond this, you will need to have a rescue plan, regular inspections, and proper record keeping. We will go over each of these in greater detail.

Rescue Plan

What to do in case of an emergency

Now that you've installed a system that will safely arrest someone if they fall, it is time to determine what happens if they do.

Rescuing someone who has fallen is just as important as making sure that they don't die when they do. There is more to a good rescue plan than just calling 911 and hoping that they will be able to do what's necessary. Here is what you should be considering when creating a plan.

The Rescue Should Be Prompt

The circumstances of the rescue can change what prompt means, but any user that has suffered a fall should be rescued as quickly as possible. Contact with the rescue subject should happen as quickly as possible. You should be in contact with the rescue subject within 6 minutes of the incident.

The Plan Should Be Written

Having a written plan available for each location will make a prompt rescue more likely. It's easy to forget what needs to happen when fear or adrenaline kicks in. This is doubly important because the site conditions can cause changes to the way that a rescue is performed, which means someone could assume the wrong plan from a different location.

It is possible for multiple or all locations to share the same rescue plan. However, it should be in writing and be made easily available for each location.

Do Not Forget About Additional Hazards

The rescue subject will not be the only one exposed to a hazard. The rescuer is exposed to the same fall hazard and will need to be protected as well. How you do this will depend on the location and may require additional anchors.

There are more hazards to the rescuer and rescue subject beyond a fall. Pipes may break and release hazardous gases. There could be electrical lines that become exposed due to the fall or debris that could fall on the rescue subject.

Hazards to people are not the only concern you need to consider. The equipment that you use could also be exposed to damage, rendering the equipment useless. These can be sharp edges that can cut a rescue rope or chemicals that could corrode and render safety equipment unsafe.

Once you have identified the various hazards to people and equipment, then you need to decide when those hazards are serious enough that rescue is not safe. If rescue is not safe, then the work that needs to be done that could require rescue should not be completed. You will not have a compliant and safe system if there is no rescue plan.

How The Rescue Is Done

Now it's time to get to the meat of the plan. Who is going to perform the rescue, what will they use to perform the rescue and how should it be done?

If you choose to use a professional rescue agency, then here is what you need to know.

  • Your competent person will need to coordinate with the agency to review the various locations where rescue may be needed. The agency should understand the fall protection plan and components being used. Any environmental concerns will need to be discussed as well.
  • You'll want a written document that shows what the rescue agency's capabilities are, any limitations they have, what their availability is, and how they should be contacted. Some agencies require you to contact them before work begins and you'll record this on the plan.
  • These should be clearly written and posted by your competent person so that they are easily accessible in the event of an incident.

If you choose not to use a professional rescue agency because of incompatibility or any other valid reason, then you will need to do the following:

  • Train competent or authorized rescuers to proficiency
  • Post a description of the rescue plan, including a description of all equipment to be used
    • Include the manufacturers' information for the various components
  • Post complete instructions for performing the rescue

There are different options available to you for a safe and prompt rescue. The manufacturers have stipulations placed on them by ANSI that help make rescue equipment safe and the knowledge of how to use, repair, and inspect them. It is important to think about how these can be used. For instance, if you have a self-rescue device, then what will you do if the user is incapacitated during the fall?

Once you have the plan extensively documented and the appropriate personnel is trained, then you need to evaluate it with rescue drills once a year for effectiveness. Circumstances and work change over time. Your rescue plan will need to adapt with time.

Inspecting and Maintaining Your Horizontal Lifeline

Making sure that your system stays effective

The inspection of the systems that you use is paramount in ensuring the safety of its users. If one piece of the personal fall protection system is compromised, then the entire system is compromised. Here are four questions to help you work through this important task.

  • Who is responsible for inspections?
  • How often should inspections happen?
  • How should an inspection be completed?
  • What happens if something fails inspection?

Who is responsible for inspections?

We'll break this down based on the safety roles previously mentioned.

  • A qualified person is responsible for the inspection of the entire system, especially the anchorages. Even though they do not need to be present during general inspection and use, they do need to ensure that the system is installed and used correctly.
  • A competent person is responsible for regular inspections of all fall protection and fall rescue equipment on a regular basis to ensure that the equipment is safe for use.
  • An authorized person is responsible for inspecting the equipment that they use.

How often should inspections happen?

Standard inspections of all equipment should happen on a regular basis. This should be done at least once a year and should be completed and documented by a competent person. Sometimes, manufacturers require a shorter length of time in between inspections. For example, Guardian Fall Protection requires 6-month inspections of their Absorbinator lifeline system.

Authorized users should inspect their equipment before each use. If damage is reported, then a competent person is responsible for inspecting the potentially compromised equipment to determine the next steps.

How should an inspection be completed?

There are several things to look for when you inspect your fall protection equipment. Here is a list of things to look for while doing it.

  • Look for any evidence of damage or defect to any part of the equipment. This includes, but is not limited to, fraying, broken or pulled stitches, cracking, deformation or corrosion. A lot of harnesses will have a security color built into their straps to make it easier to tell when it is compromised. If you grab an anchor and it easily moves, then that's an obvious sign that the anchor is compromised. Speaking of anchors, don't forget to look at what the anchor is attached to. If you see crumbling or cracking, then that anchor should be considered compromised.
  • Look for any absence or illegibility of markings or tags. Harnesses have tags to show the manufacturer date and inspection history. The removal of this tag could mean that the harness has expired and is now compromised. You will have to assume that the harness is no longer suitable if it lacks the appropriate tag. Lanyards and anchors will also have required markings that you'll want to keep an eye on. The manufacturer will have a list of what these are.
  • Look for the absence of any element of the equipment that could affect the ability to use the equipment. If the lanyard is missing a snap hook, then don't try to fix it with a carabineer. Fail the inspection.

If there is any other condition on the equipment that causes any doubt of its capability, then that piece of equipment should be removed from use until a competent person can inspect and determine the best next steps.

What happens if something fails inspection?

First and foremost, you need to remove any equipment that fails or looks like it could fail inspection from use. Do not take chances with potentially faulty equipment. The cost is too great if it fails. The equipment should be marked as unusable or destroyed. Such equipment may be returned to use if a competent person performs a satisfactory inspection.

There are other reasons for equipment to be removed from service besides failed inspections. Other reasons to remove equipment from service include:

  • if the inspection interval has expired (e.g., more than a year)
  • if the standards change and this piece of equipment no longer meets them
  • if it has been used in a fall event.

To boil it all down, all fall protection equipment should be inspected before it is used and on a regular basis by a competent person. Failed inspections or lack thereof should remove the equipment from use to be further inspected by a competent person or destroyed.

Inspection ensures that the equipment will continue to work as it should.

Horizontal Lifeline Training

Maing sure that your people stay effective

You can have a perfectly executed lifeline installation with a foolproof rescue plan, but none of that matters if no one knows how to use it. Every safety system should have a training program attached to it. Here is what you need to know, divided by role.

Qualified

The very definition of a qualified person includes appropriate training. With respect to fall safety, a qualified person should be trained in the hierarchy of controls and any applicable fall protection regulations and standards, like OSHA. They'll also need to have training for the responsibilities that their specific role requires. An example can, but does not have to, be structural engineering.

A qualified person is going to have a substantial portion of the responsibility when it comes to protecting people and needs to have the correct education and experience. You are not responsible for training a qualified person, but you are responsible for making sure they are qualified.

Competent

A competent person needs to understand the hierarchy of controls and all applicable regulations and standards related to fall protection. They will also need to be able to survey fall hazards, understand the procedures to cancel work and prevent access as necessary, and implement fall protection and rescue plans. They will need to know how the equipment works, how to inspect it for safe use, and how to train others in the use of the fall protection system.

It's important to remember that, while a qualified person is responsible for the use of the system, the competent person can share the responsibilities of training and inspection. As a reminder, a competent person and a qualified person can be one and the same.

Authorized

An authorized person needs to be trained to recognize fall hazards and what methods they can use to minimize the hazard. They will need to know what the important roles in safety are (e.g., the competent person or the competent rescuer). An authorized person will need to be trained in the use of fall protection equipment and procedures, how to inspect the equipment before each use, and what the rescue plan is.

It all boils down to equipping this person to be able to do their work safely and know who they should talk to if something happens.

Cadence

Every person should be trained as mentioned above before they are exposed to a hazard. So, if you have contractors coming to site that will be using your personal fall protection system, then you need to make sure that they are trained to do so. If they are not, then they are not authorized and should not be using it.

Training doesn't end with the initial education. Every authorized user and competent person should be retrained at least every two years. Other circumstances that could require a need for retraining would be a change to the fall protection program, changes in the equipment, or changes in the workplace that affect the safe use of the equipment.

You don't have to wait two years to have someone be retrained. If you ever see inadequacies in a user's performance, then you should immediately revoke their authorization until they have been trained again.

Training is an ongoing piece of a fall safety program that cannot be forgotten. Make sure that you keep the appropriate cadence and keep records of all your training.

Record Keeping

The value of knowing it was done

Proper documentation will help ensure that each component of a lifeline safety plan is completed and that it is repeatable.

Your fall protection plan should include comprehensive details of everything we talked about previously. This includes hazards, procedures, equipment, appropriate personnel, etc. Your records should reflect any changes to the plan and should be modified immediately.

Rescue plans and rescue roles, like professional rescue agencies, should be documented and clearly posted. Regular check-ins with these agencies to verify the continued capability to perform rescues should be included in these records.

All the activities that you will need to perform after a personal fall protection system are installed should be recorded. This should include the annual inspections by the competent person, the failed inspections of the authorized users, and any certifications completed by the qualified person.

Training for each of the roles will need to be documented on a regular basis. A competent person is required to have their training documented every two years or less. Authorized users may not require documentation, but best practice tells us that this should be done as well. If you choose to monitor an authorized user for competency, then record this as well.

The more that you can keep a record of, then the better prepared your people will be. Not to mention, in the event of an incident, such documentation will speak volumes to your company's preparedness for fall safety.

Keeping track of all these components is how you will know that your fall protection plan is managed well and continues to be effective. Once you have a handle on your record-keeping, then you'll want to review the entire plan one more time before you implement it.

Conclusion

There is a lot involved when you choose or need to install a lifeline system. I hope you are better equipped to keep your people safe while using a lifeline. Let's review some highlights one more time before you leave.

  • If you don't have the proper clearances for a personal fall protection system, then you cannot have a personal fall protection system.
  • Every personal fall protection system must be designed, installed, and used under the supervision of a qualified person.
  • A prompt rescue must be planned for every time a lifeline is used.
  • Inspect all your equipment before use and annually.
  • Train users to be authorized to use this system. Train someone(s) to be a competent person. Retrain as needed and at least every two years.
  • Keep a record of everything. Your training. Your inspections. Your plans. Everything.

If you have further questions that are not answered here or wish to work through your current situation, then please reach out to one of our safety experts. We look forward to helping you maintain a safe work environment.

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