Connecting DevicesLanyards – the Critical Link in Fall Protection
Lanyard fall protection coverage has been given to harnesses and anchorage points, but the critical connection between these two – lanyards – 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 extend deceleration distance during a fall, significantly reducing fall arresting forces by 65 to 80 percent, below the threshold of injury, as specified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and recommended by the American National Standards Institute (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 rollout.
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 expands to slow the fall. Better models feature a back-up safety strap inside the pack for greater security.
No single component is subjected to the total fall force; however, lanyards are comprised of only one strength member (i.e., webbing, rope, steel cable). Substandard design, poor quality workmanship, excessive exposure to UV light or chemicals, physical damage, improper storage or inadequate inspection can lead to lanyard failure. The consequences can be severe, and may include worker injury or fatality, lawsuits, higher insurance and workers’ compensation premiums, lost time from the job and the like.
Know the Regulations
OSHA 29 CFR subpart M states: When stopping a fall, a personal fall arrest system must:
- Limit maximum fall arresting force on an employee to 1,800 pounds (8kN) when used with a full-body harness;
- Limit free fall distance to less than 6 feet (1.8m), and be rigged in such a way as to prevent contact with a lower level;
- Bring the employee to a complete stop while limiting maximum deceleration distance to 3-1/2 feet (1.1m); and
- Have sufficient strength to withstand twice the potential energy of a worker free falling from a distance of 6 feet (1.8m) (or the free fall distance permitted by the system, whichever is less).
- While these regulations apply primarily to construction activities, many other industries follow these guidelines for greater job site safety.
To select the appropriate lanyard for a specific application, consider the following factors:
- 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, consider: the length of the lanyard, the length that the shock absorber will elongate during deceleration, the height of the worker, plus a safety factor.
- 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 (8kN). Likewise, ANSI Z359 standards for equipment manufacturers suggest that non-shock-absorbing lanyards limit fall forces to 1,800 pounds (8kN), an infeasible option with commercially available lanyard materials, and 900 pounds (4kN) for shock-absorbing lanyards. Most reputable lanyard manufacturers design to the 900-pound (4kN) 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.