In This Section

News and Articles



The Fall Protection Lifeline: A Safety Professional’s Guide to Self-Retracting Devices

Jan 13, 2020

An effective fall protection system is made upConstruction workers discussing plans of many components. That’s why occupational safety and health professionals need to understand how each piece of equipment helps protect workers at height. One such component is the self-retracting device (SRD). An SRD offers workers at height a tool for moving around a workspace, while providing a lanyard that will arrest their fall, should one take place. 

SRDs at a Glance 

ANSI/ASSP Z359.0 defines an SRD as “a device that contains a drum wound line that automatically locks at the onset of a fall to arrest the user, but that pays out from and automatically retracts onto the drum during normal movement of the person to whom the line is attached. After the onset of a fall, the device automatically locks the drum and arrests the fall.” 

SRDs are classified into two categories:

  • Class A: Maximum arrest distance of 24 inches (610 mm)
  • Class B: Maximum arrest distance of 54 inches (1,372 mm)

Dan Henn, chair of the Z359.14 Subcommittee, notes that while SRDs and classic self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) were traditionally cable inertia locking reels mounted on overhead anchorages to allow a cone of access on a working surface, the devices have changed considerably in the last 10 to 15 years. SRDs have evolved into a series of different types of devices, many that have been miniaturized and worn in lieu of energy-absorbing lanyards. 

While these miniaturized devices present new opportunities in fall protection, they also present challenges. Taking these steps can you help address those challenges and ensure that SRDs will provide an appropriate level of protection.

1. Put SRDs to the Test

Like all fall protection equipment, SRDs must undergo rigorous performance testing to ensure that they can withstand real-world working conditions. The Z359.14 Subcommittee has worked to match testing requirements in the standard to conditions in the field. 

“A key feature of this standard is to increase the strength of SRDs, whether through the materials we’re using or through the construction methods,” says Henn. “We’ve also introduced new testing procedures to evaluate known end-user behavior that has evolved over the last 10 to 15 years.”

While Z359.14 and OSHA’s Subpart M Appendix C present voluntary testing requirements for fall protection equipment, Henn encourages organizations to go beyond those requirements to protect workers. Furthermore, Z359.14 only requires that leading-edge SRLs be tested over a steel edge. Testing over abrasive surfaces such as concrete, stone, steel decking or other materials is not included in the current version of the standard. 

Therefore, Henn encourages SRD users to conduct additional testing to identify any additional hazards or conditions that exist in the workplaces where they operate. 

“If you have an application where you’re concerned about the performance of a product, then you need to talk to your manufacturer and look for specific test data,” says Henn. “Additional testing is required above and beyond what is included in regulations and standards in order to vet out additional hazards and conditions that exist in the workplace.”

Henn notes that the Z359.14 Subcommittee is aiming to develop additional analogs for leading-edge conditions to account for as many variables in SRD testing. 

2. Communicate to Users

Many mistakes with fall protection equipment come from misunderstanding how to use it properly. Therefore, users need to understand the capabilities and limitations of SRDs so they can make informed decisions about which equipment to use in different working situations. 

 “Where fall protection is concerned, I see it happen again and again where instructions are not being disseminated to the people who need to have them in order to successfully implement fall protection systems,” says Henn. 

Henn adds that given the limited space available on SRDs manufacturers should ensure that the most critical information is available on the device itself. For instance, some formats include minimum clearance requirements on certain SRDs so that users understand how much space they should have beneath them to stay safe. 

In the Z359.14 standard being revised, the subcommittee is seeking to create new ways for conveying proper operation of SRDs to users so they can implement their systems effectively. 

“We’re looking for ways to communicate equipment information succinctly and locally to make sure that end-users have the information they need to understand whether or not they’re implementing their system safely,” says Henn. 

3. Elevate Anchorages

Along with communication, elevation is one of the most important words to remember for SRD use. Users need to understand that by elevating their anchorage point, they greatly improve their safety. 

In Fall Protection: Top 10 Misuses and What to Do About Them, featured in the June 2018 issue of Professional Safety, Craig Galecka and Shawn Smith note that anchoring below foot level increases free fall, potentially above the allowable limits of fall protection equipment. This can cause the lanyard or anchorage to fail, thereby increasing the probability of serious injury.  

“If we want to ensure end-user safety, the first step we have to take is to elevate our anchorage,” says Henn. “Every measurable metric improves under those circumstances.”

Henn notes that while it may be difficult to introduce elevated anchorage in certain circumstances, solutions such as freestanding horizontal lifeline systems, boom lifts and passive systems can help. 

“There are a lot of options available to us,” he says. “Are we willing to take the time to do the work or are we looking for the easy way out?”

4. Inspect to Protect

Before every shift, users should inspect fall protection equipment for wear and tear to confirm it will protect them when working at height. The most important element is checking that the device locks in place. 

“When we deal with self-retracting devices, in general, locking function is the number one thing we’re looking for,” he says. “If a device fails to lock, then we have a serious problem, and that’s a common occurrence.”

Along with verifying the device locks, Henn encourages users to examine SRDs for damage such as denting, cracking, breaking and any deformation of any component, as well any corrosion or invasive contamination. 

Listen to our podcast with Dan Henn of the ANSI/ASSP Z359.14 Subcommittee to learn more about SRDs and working safely at height.  

Workplace Falls are Preventable 

Our Fall Protection Safety Toolbox has resources you need to identify and control risks, provide relevant training, and protect workers at height. 

Learn more


Are You Passionate About Safety?

Volunteer with ASSP today.

Get involved


Jumpstart Your Learning

Access our latest free webinars, articles and more.

Advance Your Career

Earning an ASSP certificate can enhance your career.

Get Insight & Analysis

Learn about the latest trends in safety management, government affairs and more.

Connect With ASSP