The Shocking Truth About Shock Absorbing Lanyards

Discussion in 'Fall Protection' started by Neil Enslin, Jul 29, 2016.

  1. Neil Enslin

    Neil Enslin Moderator

    The Shocking Truth About Shock Absorbing Lanyards

    Shock absorbing lanyards (also known as energy absorbers, fall arrestors, scaff hooks and a range of other terms) have become the go-to fall protection equipment. It’s the single most used fall protection equipment in South Africa – and possibly the world.

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    Scaffolders, painters, maintenance and construction crews all use it. In fact, it has become so synonymous with safety at height that nowadays, most manufacturers sell it as a unit that is stitched to and integrated with the full body harness. Many see it as the turning point of height safety – fall protection for the masses – and hail it as a lifesaver. Others reel at the sight of it and hiss about its hidden dangers like its some covert terrorist movement that has managed to infiltrate society at large. So what is the big deal and why is this apparent big leap in the right direction of safety on the work site, frowned upon by some? Here’s a few things to think about before buying a set of shock absorbing lanyards.

    It allows for a fall

    Think about it – when working at height, the one most important thing that defines your safety is whether you can actually fall or not. Here is a piece of safety equipment used for working at height, and part of its ‘normal operating procedures’ is that it allows you to fall. That’s like having a great malaria cure tablet, but in order for it to work, you first need to make sure you have malaria. Whatever happened to prevention being better than cure. The shock absorbing lanyard’s modus operandi has a first assumption that reads: ‘The user is falling, uncontrollably and with no holds barred, from an unknown height’. Inherently, this piece of equipment needs you to fall before it can do anything about that.

    Its ability to perform its function depends on the environment it is used in

    Fall risk situations vary by about as much as the personalities of those working at height. Shock absorbing lanyards are manufactured in such a way that it is activated by a force exceeding 2kN (that’s roughly equatable to a load of 200kG). The force of a person’s fall can vary by how much slack is in the lanyard at the time, the projection of their fall (i.e. straight down or in a swinging motion), their body posture and orientation at the time, etc. All of these factors influence the ultimate force that is exerted on the shock-absorbing lanyard and in turn, the relative effectiveness with which it can perform its duties. Moisture content, ambient heat and the exposure of the materials to chemicals (even airborne) can all affect the ‘tearability’ or performance of the shock-absorbing element.

    It is easy to use wrong

    Shock absorbing lanyards are advanced pieces of equipment that showcase many years of research and development. It makes use of various elements – connectors, connection rings, webbing, etc. Some of these elements have been shown to be incompatible during normal use – for example, some connectors may unclip from the anchor point by itself during a fall. Lanyards can also easily be used incorrectly in a way that exceeds the ability of the equipment to arrest a fall safely, by overloading or cross-loading it. It is not uncommon to encounter instances where the user inadvertently short-circuits the shock-absorbing element through incorrect tieback practices.

    You need space – lots of it

    Most shock absorbing lanyards found on construction sites are not adjustable. That means that the user will fall the total length of the lanyard before it is activated – and once it is activated, it lengthens even more. The result of this effect is that the user may require huge open areas below them during use – areas that are basically open and free space, that is free from any obstacles that may interfere with the fall path or the swing of the user after a fall. In reality, very few sites are – it is usually a maze of scaffold, formwork, tools, equipment and structures. In such a case, a person’s fall may still be arrested, but the ‘safely’ part fall away. Many injuries from falling is actually as a result of the casualty swinging into or striking an obstacle during the fall.

    Fall arrested – now what?

    The shock-absorbing lanyard managed to single-handedly give birth to an entire rescue industry. Being suspended in a full body harness is extremely uncomfortable – and dangerous. But this, at the end of a 2m long lanyard, which is mostly attached to the user’s back – priceless. It’s a very high-risk position to be in and demands immediate response in order to control the damage that is already in process. With most shock absorbing lanyards, there’s no way out, using your lanyard. Some have built-in relief straps (a strap that you can stand on, but which is attached to you harness – kind of like taking hold of your trousers’ belt and picking yourself up), but these are temporary measures only.

    These are some of the many considerations to be aware of when choosing your fall protection equipment. With proper training, reputable manufacturers and good fall protection planning, it is possible to use shock absorbing lanyards safely, but the current trend of grab ‘n go is not conducive to favourable statistics and shock absorbing lanyards are often not the best (or even a good) approach to working in a fall risk position.

    Source: http://fallprotectionworks.com/the-shocking-truth-about-shock-absorbing-lanyards/
    Written by: Hein Stapelberg