Keeping workers safe while at height requires awareness of jobsite specific hazards. When working with a traditional fall protection lanyard there is a hazard present that can greatly compromise the safety of a worker. The edges that the lanyard passes over could weaken the material, giving way when a great force is exerted on the lanyard. This can happen during work, where a lanyard is scraping against a sharp edge. But there are also dangerous instances where a lanyard sustains damage while a person falls and their fall is arrested. For example, because their lanyard makes contact with the edges of steel plates.
Dangers in the workplace
A sharp edge has the potential to cut most traditional lanyards. There are stories of both steel-cable and nylon webbing lanyards that were severed after contacting sharp, abrasive edges. Which poses a great risk to users working in fall restraint or fall arrest. The lanyard can tear completely, especially dangerous when a fall has occurred.
Sharp edges are an especially prominent issue when lanyards, or self-retracting lifelines (SRLs), are used horizontally, for example on a roof top. The lanyard is connected to the anchorage location at foot level (below the harness D-ring). Should a user fall, the lanyard is pulled taut over the roof surface, and comes into contact with the roof edge. If this edge is made of sharp stone, metal, or other material, the lanyard can chafe while the user is dangling in their harness. Or a lanyard might move over an sharp edge in the workspace, for example a small wall, and abrasions will start to form in the lanyard. A situation that needs to be avoided.
Special equipment for sharp edge applications
For situations in which users have to work with lanyards in environments where sharp edges are present, special equipment is necessary. For this reason there are sharp-edge lanyards on the market. These lanyards are made of materials designed, and tested, to withstand sharp edges and prevent cuts. Good equipment is part of the solution to keep workers safe, but recognition and understanding of the risk is also vital.
To prevent cuts in lifelines, by sharp edges, there are a couple of steps that can be taken:
- Identify and document (potential) sharp edges with a risk assessment.
Before starting work at height you need to perform a risk assessment, ensure that you also identify potential sharp edges.
- Avoid work near sharp edges, if possible.
Following the hierarchy of fall protection, avoiding work near sharp edges is the ideal solution to the problem. However, there are many situation in which it is impossible to not work near the sharp edge.
- Anchor lifelines overhead.
Lifelines that are anchored overhead have less risk of coming into contact with a sharp edge. However, when working on a roof there is often no way to anchor overhead.
- Ensure lifelines with sharp edge protection are used.
There are lifelines specifically made for sharp edge work situations. These lanyards are protected against cuts.
- Cover edges with protective materials.
To ensure that no damage occurs to a lanyard you could cover sharp edges. Ensure that these covers cannot be moved by a lanyard slipping over the material.
- Train users.
Instruct users on the dangers of sharp/unprotected edges and where they are located in the worksite. Knowledge of risks helps workers avoid the threat and understand why some equipment cannot be used.