The self-retracting lifeline explained

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Learn about the self-retracting lifeline

A self-retracting lifeline is a type of lanyard that allows a user to move around freely within an area. The lanyard rolls out and retracts based on the user’s movement. The retracting function ensures the lifeline is always kept taut. When a sudden increase in speed is detected, e.g. a fall, the automatic speed brake is activated and the fall will be stopped.

Self-retracting lifelines (SRL’s) go by many names; automatic fall arrest device, retractable fall arresters, retracting lanyards, or fall arrest block. Though the name may differ, the equipment functions the same. The concept of a self-retracting lanyard is often compared to that of the commonly known seatbelt.

If you give a light pull on the seatbelt it will roll out smoothly, and retract to a snug fit once released. A sudden tug on the seatbelt, for example because of an emergency stop, will make the system block, ensuring you do not fly from your seat. The retracting lanyard works pretty much the same. Only it’s function is to stop falls and limit forces imposed on the workers’ body during a fall.

Self-retracting lifeline in use with an overhead cable system

When to use a self-retracting lanyard?

Self-retracting lifelines are used in situations where work at height is executed and where users work in fall arrest or fall restraint situations.

When working in fall restraint, users cannot reach the area where they have the probability to fall. When working with a self-retracting lanyard this means that the unrolled length of the lanyard should not exceed the distance from the anchor to the edge.

Working in fall arrest means users can fall off a structure, but the equipment will stop their fall. If user has fallen from height, your rescue plan should kick in use. To prevent further injuries a worker needs to be rescued and quickly as is safely possible. Self-retracting lifelines are often used in fall arrest systems. The most common application is for overhead anchorage.

A typical example of overhead self-retracting lifeline use is while working on steel I beams in a stadium or factory hall. The reason for this is that the self-retracting lanyard minimizes the fall distance by stopping a fall near instantly. When the anchor point is right above the user, this not only limits the fall distance (and thus the fall clearance needed), it also helps prevent swing falls.

Work with a self-retracting lifeline in a factory location

Horizontal use

Retracting lanyards can be used in combination with permanently installed fall protection systems, such as a single anchor point or a horizontal lifeline system. Always check the manufacturer’s specifications before using SRL horizontally. When using a self-retracting lifeline horizontally you need to consider leading, or sharp, edges. The cable of the retracting lanyard needs to have sharp edge protection to ensure it does not tear.

For example, some retracting lifelines, such as our XStop Mini and XStop Midi, are also suitable for horizontal use.

When using a self-retracting lifeline horizontally while anchored at foot level you also need to consider the necessary fall clearance carefully. As the lanyard is anchored lower, a person can fall a longer distance before the speed sensing brake activates and stops the fall, compared to an overhead anchorage situation.

But there can also be situations in which there is no option to install a permanent solution, such as during construction. For this situation a steel sling is available. This allows a user to connect to, for example a structural column. The retractable lanyard allows them to walk to their worksite, while keeping the lanyard taut.

Components of a self-retracting lifeline

A retracting lanyard consists of a hard casing that holds either polyester webbing or steel wire rope. The cable is connected to a snap hook, karabiner or scaffold hook, with which the user can connect to lanyard to their harness. The XSPlatforms XStop Mini Sharp Edge and XStop Midi Sharp Edge, retractable fall arrest devices have an integrated fall indicator in their snap hooks. These alert users to the fact that the device has been activated and needs to be taken out of service.

The fall indicator shows if a self-retracting lifeline has been involved in a fall. Red means it's been activated

The hard, often polymer, casing also holds the internal brake that stops the fall and reduces forces to less than 6 kN. This braking system needs to be inspected once a year. If a self-retracting lifeline has been involved in a fall accident, the equipment needs to be taken out of service for re-certification.

Inspecting and maintaining your retracting lifeline

Before using any fall protection equipment users should perform a pre-use check. This is a visual inspection in which you check for any damages or deformations. For self-retracting lifelines you can check for cracks in the casing, corrosion or loose wires for the webbing or wire rope, severe pollution on the wire, deformations of the carabiner and so forth. We’ve written an extensive blog about replacing automatic fall arrest devices, this blog also includes an inspection poster to help in pre-use checks.

Proper storage of self-retracting lanyards, in a cool and dry place, helps prevent material breakdown such as rust. Should you want to clean your retracting lanyard, do so according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Some cleaning agents can damage the equipment, so do not use them carelessly.

Application of a self-retracting lifeline

Advantages of the self-retracting lanyard

Self-retracting lifelines allow for a greater mobility for those working at height, while at the same time minimizing trip hazards as the lanyard is always pulled taut. When comparing the retracting lifeline to energy absorbing lifelines (also used for fall arrest), the retractables allow for a much smaller fall clearance. The breaking mechanism stops the fall quickly, and also manages to reduce forces on the user’s body. For situations in which there is a limited fall clearance, the retracting lifeline may be the best solution.

Want to learn more about self-retracting lifelines and our specific range? Download the retractable leaflet, with our top selling retracting lanyards.

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