Horizontal Lifelines vs Anchor Points

Should you find yourself in a situation in which you need to protect your employees from a fall, your first attempt should always be to look for ways to prevent them from falling in the first place, as opposed to arresting the fall. Eliminating the need to be exposed to the fall hazard would be one way of doing this, as would installing rail systems. However, it’s pretty safe to say that elimination of the fall hazard isn’t always an option. Rails aren’t always an option. In these situations, an employer needs to look at the next best way to protect their employees. This is often travel restraint and, if that’s not feasible, fall arrest.

For either travel restraint or fall arrest, you are going to need some type of anchor or anchor system to which your workers can tie-off. What this anchor or anchor system is – and the requirements for it – varies. From permanent anchor points to horizontal lifelines, there are a number of solutions, but not every solution fits every situation. So, which is better for you?

How Long Do You Intend To Use It?

In other words, is the work you need the fall protection for temporary, intermittent, or in any other way short-term? If so, a temporary anchor point may be your answer. Counterweighted, non-penetrating portable anchor points can be relatively quickly set up, sometimes by one person (though we highly recommend that nobody work at heights alone). These anchor points can be assembled by anybody trained to do so. A horizontal lifeline is a bit different. This will take longer to install and should be done under the direction of a qualified person. In addition, lifelines need to be installed more than assembled. While a worker can place a portable anchor on the roof and drop the weights into place one by one, the mounts for the horizontal lifeline need to be fastened to the wall, floor, roof, or ceiling. In some instances, a lifeline can be eliminated as a solution simply because the building owner will not allow the roof or other surface to be penetrated.

In addition, some anchors can be used with the existing structure, meaning much less equipment needs to be carried and installed. For instance, a beam strap or a beam clamp can be attached to an existing I-Beam to serve as an anchor point. This is a quick, easy solution IF you have a proper anchor available. Decorative steel, for instance, will most likely not suffice to serve as an anchor. This, however, will probably not stop people from using it (or even something as flimsy as PVC pipe) if given the opportunity. Should you choose to allow the use of the existing structure as an anchor, your personnel must be trained by a qualified person as to what is and is not an acceptable anchor point. When you use a portable anchor, a horizontal lifeline, or other manufactured system, it leaves no question as to whether or not your workers are tying off to something that is actually going to protect them.

How Much Area Do You Need to Cover?

Anchors are good when your work is in one small area. Naturally, your workers will be restricted to a certain radius around the anchor point, based on the length of their lanyard (and other factors, including whether or not there is the potential for a swing hazard in the event of a fall). In order to work in multiple or larger areas, you would then need to break down and move the anchor point or have multiple anchor points in use simultaneously. Having to do either of those things would be cumbersome, dangerous, and/or expensive. With a horizontal lifeline, this is a little different. Horizontal lifelines can be customized and configured in almost any way you want. Whether you want the lifeline to run right down the middle of the roof so that nobody can reach the edge, or you want it to follow the perimeter or the shape of the roof to allow for more flexibility, you can design it ahead of time to ensure that your workers are able to reach any spot they need to reach.

How Many Workers Do You Need to Protect?

Anchor points have capacity requirements based on the amount of force that would be exerted on them in the event of a fall. These requirements, whether designated by regulation or calculated by an engineer to meet the required safety factor, are based on the number of people attached. For example, the OSHA requirement is that an anchor point for fall arrest (for the most part) must be able to support at least 5000 lbs. of force for each person attached. Because of this, many anchor points are designed to only hold one or two people. Meanwhile, a lifeline is going to be designed by an engineer for your specific situation. While a horizontal lifeline might also be designed for only one or two people, they can be, and often are, designed to support more. Multiple stanchions, options in the way the system is fastened to the surface, and the simple fact that there’s a lot more room give you much greater flexibility in this regard.

So Which Is It?

Frankly, that’s impossible to answer because no two situations are alike. If there was a one-size-fits-all solution, there would probably be only one solution. As a result, your decision between an anchor point or a lifeline isn’t just a personal preference. It isn’t always a matter of choice so much as it is a matter of necessity. While buying a beam clamp might be cheaper than installing a horizontal lifeline, it does you no good if you don’t have an exposed I-Beam available. The questions presented throughout this article are the types of things you need to be asking yourself so that you can properly assess your situation to determine which solution works better for you and which effective solution fits within your budget. Keep in mind that no matter which you decide on, it should only be after you’ve done sufficient research, spoken with qualified people, and ensured that whichever solution you pick is going to keep your employees safe.