Horizontal Lifelines – A Comprehensive Overview

Horizontal lifelines are a versatile, effective fall protection solution that can solve some complicated hazards. Yet, in many cases, people don’t understand them enough to select them, let alone properly implement and use them. A lifeline, which could be made of wire rope cable or a rigid steel track and allows users the flexibility of movement around their work area by allowing the anchor point to, essentially, travel with them. Horizontal lifelines can be designed to be used for either travel restraint or fall arrest and, just like any other fall protection solution, fall clearance needs to be carefully considered. Horizontal lifelines can eliminate a lot of the headaches that come with fall protection when you are trying to rely on one stationary anchor point (like allowing for multiple users and covering a greater work area), but don’t expect to be able to throw one into place on the fly. Horizontal lifelines take careful planning and proper installation by qualified people.

While the idea that a qualified person is needed to install your system might scare you, it’s actually a good thing. Horizontal lifelines are often designed for your specific work situation. While hardware and components may be the same from installation to installation, the configuration of your system, the length of your system, and how your system is mounted are all customized to your needs. This takes a lot more thought, training, and experience than attaching a beam clamp to an I-beam, but you’ll be able to do so much more with the system once it’s installed than you’d be able to do with just a beam clamp. Lifelines can be mounted to the rooftop, to a wall, or overhead, and even come in non-penetrating systems for times when the mounting surface must remain intact. All of this can be implemented in locations where the initial reaction might have been, “But there’s nothing to tie-off to!” The good news is that you don’t have to worry about trying to train your people to turn them into qualified installers. Most suppliers, like Sesco, will design, install, and even periodically inspect your horizontal lifeline. That way, highly-trained, experienced professionals are helping to take that burden off of your shoulders and helping to put you at ease knowing that you have a properly installed system. You only need to concern yourself with training your personnel how to use, inspect, and maintain the system.

Once installed, horizontal lifelines need to be inspected and maintained, just like any other piece of equipment. Since horizontal lifelines are often installed for long-term work, outdoor installations may be exposed to all kinds of weather conditions. These conditions plus continuous use over time means that just assuming your lifeline is in good working condition can be a dangerous, if not fatal, mistake. Make sure your employees are inspecting your system before use and make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for how often you should have a Competent Person performing an inspection (ANSI recommends a documented inspection no less frequently than once a year, but you should increase the frequency based on the amount of use your system gets). Ensure that your personnel know just what it is they are supposed to be looking at. This system may save an employee’s life. Simply taking a quick glance and thinking, “It looks good,” does not constitute an inspection. Maintenance is just as important. Your manufacturer will have maintenance guidelines that should be followed to ensure that the lifeline works as intended, and that you get as much use out of the system as possible. Whatever your maintenance and inspection schedules are, remember that no concern should go unchecked. If you find any damage to any connection, sleeve, wire rope, rail, or ANY other component of the system, take it out of service until it can be fully inspected, tested, repaired, or replaced. Remember, this is a device that is protecting and saving lives, so err on the side of caution.

In the end, falls continue to be the number one killer in construction and one of the largest killers of workers in the United States, overall. Often workers work without fall protection not because they want to, but because nobody has stopped to evaluate the hazards they will be facing, to plan to protect them in advance, and to provide them with the proper life-saving tools and equipment. And often, employers don’t leave their workers unprotected because they want them to get hurt or killed, but because they look at difficult situations and quickly (and incorrectly) determine there’s no way to provide fall protection or that the work is so quick and intermittent that it’s just not worth it. Installing a long-term, customized solution like a horizontal lifeline can correct all of those situations, leaving your workers no excuse to not protect themselves.