Leading Edge of Confusion

A lot of confusion emanates from what precisely is a leading edge. In section 1926.751, OSHA defines leading edge as “the unprotected side and edge of a floor, roof, or formwork for a floor or other walking/working surface (such as deck) which changes location as additional floor, roof, decking or formwork sections are placed, formed or constructed.”

Leading edge appears to be a simple topic. In reality, though, it is far more complex than it seems. If you read the above OSHA’s definition could describe almost any unprotected edge. But does this mean every unprotected edge? Does it matter?

It matters because Malta Dynamics and other manufacturers are starting to build specialized products specifically for leading edge applications. These products include mostly self-retracting lifelines that have different capabilities than regular Self-Retracting Lifelines (SRL). These new leading edge products are required to be marked LE capable on the label so the end user/customer will know the difference.

While on a recent training visit to one of our customers (a concrete company) in Texas, we were discussing leading edge work. The group was confused about leading edge and believe it or not, the more we discussed it, the more I understood why they were confused.

When I arrived back to my hotel room later in the day, I researched the latest leading edge requirements again. The next day, after jumping in to help my customer solve his problem, I too was pulling my hair out. So, I do what all safety people do when facing a troubling, seemingly unsolvable fall protection problem?  They seek out a qualified person. Luckily, I work with a bunch of highly qualified fall protection specialists. I am fortunate to have developed close ties with multiples ANSI and OSHA professionals over the years, and with my customer also on the phone, we reached out to one of them. For the next 20 minutes the three of us had an in-depth discussion about leading edge.

My colleague told us how ANSI is working to solve and simplify the leading edge confusion in the market place by improving testing procedures. The current ANSI testing protocols require that swing fall and a sharp edge be taken into consideration.

Visualize this if you can. You are in an ISO 17025 testing laboratory conducting a leading-edge test on a 20 foot SRL. A 20’ cable with a 420 pound weight at the end is dropped over the edge of a cement platform. The cement platform has been filed to a sharpened edge. Now, remember we are factoring in swing fall, so the anchor point is 6 feet away from where the weight was dropped. This means that when the falling weight reaches enough force to engage the breaking mechanism in the SRL, it will catch.

Because it is 6 feet away from the anchor point, the weight swings the full 6 feet back to center. Laws of Physics ensure the resting point of the weight is under anchor. When the weight returns to center, the cable slides along the sharpened edge. In conclusion, the razor sharp edge can cut just about anything, which means the products are failing that part of the test.

While the engineers and certification organizations are busy re-examining how SRLs are tested when subjected to sharp edge and leading edge applications, the rest of us are left baffled. Plus, multiple products exist that will not pass that part of the test. Not good.

Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS) rely on Self Retracting Lifelines to perform. Industry leaders, including Malta Dynamics, are focusing in on leading edge problems. But what are the answers?

Hundreds of end users, trainers, and fellow manufacturers have told me that placing a shock absorber at the end of the SRL is the solution. I mostly disagree with this logic. Although the shock pack does indeed lower the forces at the end of the SRL cable, that alone does not make an SRL capable of withstanding the sharp edge, especially when sliding several feet across it.

In fact, traditional leading edge applications almost always involve a sharp edge and foot level tie-off, which increases force to the SRL during a fall. These additional forces usually exceed the accepted safety parameters of the equipment.

As a manufacturer that gets to sit in on the testing processes, we have been exposed to the catastrophic results when SRL are tested to the strict ANSI protocols of leading edge. The only way an SRL can pass the test is if the SRL has been enhanced. This means SRL cables must be made out of heavy-duty materials that are resistant to wear even on sharp edges. The shock packs or energy absorbers must be specialized and additional modifications to the breaking mechanism should be used.

The current offering of products that truly meet the leading edge requirements are few and far between. If you are an employer, safety director, or a competent person who is responsible for your workers, it is important to study and ensure the products you are using on the job are for the proper application. Furthermore, you have to understand the limitations of the products and how they are designed to be used, as well as how they are not to be used.

There will be more information coming out on leading edge products. There will be revisions to the testing parameters of these products, but only knowledge and clarity is going to help those on the front lines who use these products. If you aren’t sure of the products you have for leading edge applications, do yourself, your company, and your workers a favor by making sure you are using products that meet ANSI standard and ask to the see the testing data.  These products must be tested by an ISO 17025 laboratory and third parties are always best. If the testing data is difficult to get your hands on, I wouldn’t let it go at that. The lives of your workers are too important.

Ken Hebert Bio

Ken Hebert is the Co-Founder and National Sales Manager of Malta Dynamics.  Customer-focused professional who has spent over 20 years marketing in the safety and training industry. For questions concerning technical safety issues or about Malta Dynamics products, Ken can be reached at

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