Proper Inspection of Self-Retracting Lifelines

Last month, I was training a group of workers in the concrete trade. I had an opportunity to visit with some of the men on the jobsite while we were waiting for the entire group to gather around the project trailer. I enjoy getting an opportunity to engage with the workers and find out how they conduct inspections of their products. You never know what great things you can find out and then share with other companies across the country.

This company has a great safety director who does a fantastic job of taking care of its workers. They had the harness inspection down pat. They knew how to put it on, how to inspect their lanyards and what to do when a product fails inspection. I was impressed to say the least.

If there was one area to be considered – a weakness – it was dealing with self-retracting lifelines. Most companies I visit and train have an inspection of self-retracting lifelines at only about 75%. As a result, I would like to make this month’s article about getting to that number.


Step 1: Check the Labels and Fall Indicator
These need to be the first two things checked by any person performing inspection, whether it is the pre-use inspection or the competent person inspection. The reason these two items need to be the starting point for all inspections is simple: if the fall indicator is triggered, remove the item from service and stop all further inspections. In essence, you’re done. The same applies for the labels; if the labels are wrong, don’t meet the necessary requirements for your jobsite application or if they are incompatible and illegible, then you must immediately remove them from service and start on the next piece of equipment.

Depending on the SRL model, the swivel eye will elongate and expose a red area when subjected to fall arresting forces. Again, do not use the unit if the load impact indicator has been activated. Be sure the workers have been shown what to look for during their pre-use inspection.

Check the housing of the SRL and inspect the housing for loose fasteners. Make sure that none of the parts are cracked, distorted, bent, malfunctioning or damaged. Remember that a few scrapes or missing paint does not constitute taking out of service.


Step 2: Test the Lifeline Itself
Whether it is a nylon web or metal cable line, it needs to be tested for retraction and tension. Tension and retraction can be tested at the same time you are inspecting the braking mechanism. This can be done by executing strike tests on the SRL. Grasp the lifeline above the load indicator and apply a sharp steady pull downward, making sure to use enough force to engage the brakes. It’s important to not grab the snap hook itself during a strike test as the forces exerted on the snap hook might trigger the impact indicator over time. There should not be any slippage of the lifeline while the brakes are engaged. Once tension is released, the brakes are designed to disengage and the unit will return to the retractable mode. If the brakes do not engage, remove from service. Always maintain a light tension on the lifeline as it retracts back into the housing. In addition to strike tests, the entire length of the line needs to be checked.

The lifeline should pull out freely and retract all the way back into the unit. Remove from service if the lifeline does not retract properly. Check the lifeline for signs of damage: cuts, burns, corrosion, kinks, frays or worn areas. Be sure to wear gloves when inspecting an entire line of cable as any frays can cause severe damage to bare hands. If you are inspecting a web line you should inspect the quality of sewing. Look for loose, broken or damaged stitching.

Check the snap hook to be sure that it operates freely, locks properly and that the swivel operates smoothly. Then, inspect the snap hook for any signs of damage to the keepers and any bent, cracked, or distorted components. Make sure that the snap hook is not rusted or damaged.

To keep self-retracting lifelines in the best shape they should be kept clean, especially when exposed to rough trades like concrete and masonry. The good news is that the most basic care of equipment will prolong the life of the product. It will also contribute toward the performance of its function. Proper maintenance and storage after use are important. Simply wipe off the dirt, corrosives, and contaminants and the product should last. Make sure that concrete, mortar and other contaminants don’t make their way back into the housing with the lifeline as they will sometimes dry and lock up the unit. If this is a web self-retracting lifeline, the solution is to remove any surface dirt with a sponge dampened in plain water. Storage areas should be clean, dry and free of exposure to fumes or corrosive elements. Problems occurs when SRLs are tossed in toolboxes caked with mortar.


You will find that with a little common sense and an eagerness to clean and maintain your equipment, it will hold up well against even the toughest trade.

Regardless of what industry you are in, if you take these simple steps when inspecting your self-retracting lifelines you can depend on them 100% of the time. If you need additional guidance on the subject or have any questions, we have helpful training videos available or you can reach out to us directly for help.


Ken Hebert Bio

Ken Hebert is the Co-Founder and National Sales Manager of Malta Dynamics and a customer-focused professional who has spent over 20 years in the safety and training industry. To view the safety products his company has created to help keep people safe, visit Malta Dynamics’ website at To receive his free e-newsletter or to speak with Ken about technical safety issues or about Malta Dynamics products, Ken can be reached at or call 832-683-6218.

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