Is Self-Retracting Lifeline the Same as a Yo-Yo?

Yo-yo, self-retracting lifeline, self-retracting lanyard, retracts, self-retracting devices, retractable lifelines…. The names for these lifesavers create a long and ever changing list depending on what region you’re from and what industry you work in. What you really need to know is that, yes, they are all referring to the same device. A lifeline that pays out, retracts, causes deceleration, and arrests as a fall occurs is classified as a retractable lifeline.

What is a Retractable Lifeline?

Yo-yos are a type of lanyard that allow the user to freely move around the workspace as the lifeline cable extends out of the housing and, in turn, coils back up inside the shell as the worker gets closer to the unit again to keep the cable taut. This automatic feature eliminates the trip hazard commonly presented by a traditional lanyard.

How Does a Retract Work?

Self-retracting lifelines are devices that are connected to a worker’s body harness. If a fall occurs, the deceleration device can detect the fall and engages an automatic break to stop the lifeline from moving, thus arresting the fall. The braking mechanism is similar to that of a seatbelt because if you yank on the lifeline, it engages the brake, but if you smoothly pull the line in and out, it creates a fluid movement.

Overhead and Horizontal Use of Self-Retracting Lifelines 

Retractable lifelines can certainly be used in a number of applications and positions. For use overhead, the retractable almost instantly arrests a fall and drastically minimizes fall distance. Along with limiting fall distance, when the unit is anchored directly over the worker’s head, the possibility of a dangerous swing fall is significantly lowered. Using SRL’s horizontally presents two very important factors to be weary of, leading edges and fall clearance. If you are using the retractable lifeline in conjunction with a horizontal lifeline or have the potential to encounter a leading edge, you must use a specifically engineered leading edge SRL to ensure the cable won’t snap if a fall occurs. The other notable factor to look out for is calculating fall clearance. When the user is anchored off at foot-level and using a self-retracting device, it will take longer for the unit to detect a fall. Because of this, you must carefully consider the fall clearance needed before you choose an anchorage position.

OSHA and ANSI SRL Standards

OSHA has created standards for the personal fall arrest system to regulate equipment to comply with the arresting forces that the human body can withstand. In OSHA standard 1910.140(d)(1)(i) it reads that the PFAS should, “Limit the maximum arresting force on the employee to 1,800 pounds (8 kN)”. The deceleration device (SRL or shock absorbing lanyard) satisfies this regulation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard 1910.140 states that “Self-retracting lifeline/lanyard means a deceleration device containing a drum-wound line that can be slowly extracted from, or retracted onto, the drum under slight tension during normal movement by the employee. At the onset of a fall, the device automatically locks the drum and arrests the fall.” ANSI furthers the regulations for retracts and states that the manufacturer of your SRL should have the deceleration information clearly marked on the front or rear label of the lifeline housing.

1. Connectors – Connectors are any device that connects your body harness to an anchor point (e.g. shock absorbing lanyards, lifelines, self-retracting lifelines (SRLs), and positioning devices). Account for potential fall distance when choosing a type of connecting device. Adding/using shock absorbing lanyards reduces the fall force impact on your body.

2. Deceleration Devices – Any mechanism that serves to dissipate energy during a fall. Suspension trauma can occur in as little as 15 minutes; do you have a rescue plan?

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