When to Use Horizontal Lifelines

Rooftop worker utilizing a horizontal lifeline

When to Use Horizontal Lifelines

The Occupational Health & Safety Administration makes it abundantly clear—roof fall protection is non-negotiable. But even with OSHA’s strict requirements, you still have some options when it comes to fall protection systems. This is because every job site is different, and the risk of falling presents itself in different ways from site to site. For example, roof slope, holes and hatches in the roof, and where the leading edge is in relation to the work zone can present different challenges. Fortunately, with options like safety railings, horizontal lifelines, safety nets, and more, you’ve got a lot of choices when it comes to choosing the right fall protection systems for your workspace.

But how do you choose? The type of equipment you ultimately select will depend upon a variety of factors. While safety railings are a fantastic option to prevent falls in the first place, they’re not appropriate for all situations. Or perhaps the use of guardrails alone is just not enough. Let’s take a look at the different situations where horizontal lifelines might be the right choice for your safety needs.

1. When You Need to Work at Leading Edge

If work needs to be done at the very edge of your roof, horizontal lifelines give you that opportunity. Safety railings are usually installed at or near the edge of the roof, and this might impede the specific work you need done.

2. When You Have A Very Large Roof

If the area of your roof is large and has little risk of unauthorized access or casual visitors, a roof lifeline system can be more cost-effective than installing safety railings to run the perimeter. 

3. When You Have a Complicated Work Space

Things like weather conditions, roof slope, rooftop obstructions, an unusual roofline or other architectural complications may demand the use of a lifeline. If your workers need access to the entire space, horizontal lifelines can give them that opportunity. Roof lifeline systems can be installed in a straight line down the center of the space or in a configuration that follows the edge of the roof. They can even be installed on a wall or overhead if the space calls for it. Depending on how you set it up, horizontal lifelines give your workers the freedom to move around the entire space as needed. Since each job site is unique, it’s worth speaking to a professional to determine the best configuration.

4. When The Work Is Temporary

Many safety managers may not realize that roof lifeline systems can be permanent or temporary installations. If you have ongoing work to be done on a roof, a permanent lifeline system is likely the best choice. If it’s a one-time rooftop job, you might be tempted to forgo the lifeline because you don’t think it’s worth the hassle. However, outside of putting yourself at risk for some hefty fines, the safety of your crew is always worth the effort. Temporary lifelines are a great solution in this case. There are different options for both temporary and permanent lifelines, so even within each category, you can choose the one that will work best for your job site.

5. When You Have More Than Two Workers

If you choose harnesses and safety lanyards over safety railings, your workers will need to be anchored to something. For only one or two workers, having two anchor points on the roof can accomplish the job. However, if you have a larger crew, it may become challenging or less cost-effective to install an anchor point for each employee. The anchor points may also restrict workers to one particular area of the worksite. A lifeline can support several people and gives them the freedom to move about as required.

Keep in mind, roof lifeline systems come with specific requirements regarding the amount of weight/force they can withstand to ensure they hold up properly if a fall occurs:

“Travel restraint lines must be capable of sustaining a tensile load of at least 5,000 pounds (22.2 kN).”

“Horizontal lifelines shall be designed, installed, and used, under the supervision of a qualified person, as part of a complete personal fall arrest system, which maintains a safety factor of at least two.”

These systems must also limit the free fall to a certain distance and limit the force that is exerted on the human body during a fall arrest. Lanyards, harnesses, and components must be made of certain materials and be able to withstand specific forces as well. That’s why it’s essential to use OSHA-compliant equipment that has been properly installed by a professional, and each employee must be trained on how to use it properly.

Download The Complete Guide to Fall ProtectionAre Horizontal Lifelines The Right Choice For Us?

You may determine that the best fall protection systems for your site may not require the use of a lifeline. For example, if you have a flat roof and workers do not need to work close to the edge, safety railings may suffice. Likewise, if you have frequent rooftop access by non-personnel or other laypersons, you may need an option that doesn’t require training. Each job site must be carefully assessed to determine what equipment is required. It helps to partner with a safety manufacturer that is well-versed in OSHA regulations. When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is to go above and beyond the minimum requirements.

Lifeline Training & Maintenance

If you do choose a lifeline system, remember this: all workers must be thoroughly trained in how to put it on, use it, and inspect it for wear and tear. They also should know whom to report damage or hazards to and should feel comfortable doing so. A poorly installed or maintained lifeline can be as bad as no lifeline at all. It fact, it may be even worse, since workers will feel more confident and safe when they’re using one and may be more willing to take risks. Just because it’s not being used on a daily basis doesn’t mean it’s not accumulating wear and tear: sun, wind, and rain all have an impact on the system over time. It must be inspected before every use.

If there has been any damage to the lifeline or its accompanying harnesses and lanyards, workers shouldn’t be expected to continue working until it has been repaired or replaced. If a system is involved in a fall, as per regulation 1926.502(d)(19), “Personal fall arrest systems and components subjected to impact loading shall be immediately removed from service and shall not be used again for employee protection until inspected and determined by a competent person to be undamaged and suitable for reuse.”

The Final Decision

In the end, roof lifeline systems can be a cost-efficient way to ensure you’re providing the protection your employees need and deserve. We always recommend teaming up with a professional safety product manufacturer to truly find the best fit for your specific worksite needs. If you’re feeling stuck, please give us a call. We can help you determine which systems are right for you and provide the OSHA-compliant equipment you need to protect your employees no matter what their working environment is.

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