Should I use an energy absorbing lanyard or a self-retracting lanyard?
The choice of which lanyard to use is based on the type of work to be done as well as the workplace environment and application. Work environments vary - from the general and utility industries to harsher environments found in mining and oil extraction. However, regardless of working conditions, self-retracting lanyards (SRLs) are generally considered the best type of connector as they provide more effective fall protection.
Before explaining why that is, let's take a moment to talk about the lanyard and the role it plays in fall protection.
The lanyard is part of the personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) that protect employees while they work at heights. As its name implies, the job of the personal fall arrest system is not to prevent a fall but to limit how far an employee can fall, reducing the likelihood of a serious injury.
A PFAS has three components. The harness, which fits onto the user's body. The anchor point so the worker can be connected to something sturdy that will provide support in the event of a fall. And the lanyard that connects the harness to the anchor point - or, in other words, keeps the worker connected to a solid structure.
How the PFAS arrests a fall will depend on the type of connector it uses:
- Shock-absorbing lanyards have a built-in woven inner core that expands when a fall occurs, significantly reducing the impact of the fall
- Self-retracting lanyards are coiled inside a chamber and will unfurl to allow the user greater freedom of movement, but if it is unfurled too quickly (like when a worker falls) a locking mechanism is engaged and stops the SRL from deploying further (similar to how a seatbelt locks in place during an accident)
(Learn about 3 Risks Your Fall Arrest Planning May Overlook)
Shock-absorbing lanyards require 18.5 feet of clearance, measured from the anchorage connector to where the lanyard is tied off (not from the work surface).
The lanyard itself has a fixed length (usually 6 feet) and includes a shock absorber pack attached near the shoulder of the safety harness. This shock pack extends to its full limit before engaging to stop the momentum of the fall. This means that the user will free fall for 6 feet (the length of the lanyard) before the fall arrest system kicks in.
Another 3.5 feet must be added to that length for for deceleration, bringing the total distance to 9.5 feet between the worker and the location of the anchor point.
One of the main advantages of a self-retracting lanyard is that it requires considerably less clearance - only 8.5 feet, to be exact. This is largely due to the fact that it only has to extend about 2 feet before the locking mechanism is engaged (with an additional foot to factor in the lanyard stretching), while a shock absorbing laynard must extend its entire length of 6 feet.
An SRL also provides a smoother stop, which limits the force of the fall to approximately 900 lbs.
Which One Is the Better Choice?
Your decision to use one type of lanyard over another will ultimately come down to a variety of factors. Cost is one consideration. So is the working environment and the severity of the fall risks present on site.
From a purely functional perspective, however, the SRL comes out on top. It is easier on the body, thereby reducing the impact on the user. It also requires less clearance, meaning it is especially suitable for lower (but still risky) heights. This makes it the preferable option in most cases.
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