Working at heights: anchor points and lifelines

Working at heights: anchor points and lifelines

Anchor points and lifelines are common pieces of equipment used when working at heights. Each plays a role in ensuring workers remain safe while accessing elevated positions where there is a risk of a fall, but they are not interchangeable. That means it is important to know which to use in a particular circumstance.

Here is a brief overview of the two pieces of equipment, and which applications they’re best suited for.

As its name suggests, an anchor point refers to a point on an anchor device or structural anchor to which personal fall protection equipment is connected. A lifeline, on the other hand, is a flexible or rigid line made from rope, webbing or steel wire that is temporarily anchored either between two points (horizontally) or to a single point above the user (vertically).

These are some of the factors to consider when choosing the best solution for a particular job:

The number of people working

Anchor points are a great support when working at heights but are limited to only one worker at a time. This means that if multiple workers need to perform duties in the same area, multiple anchor points would be required. If there are enough anchor points available, however, they are often the suitable choice – bearing in mind other factors to be considered before making an informed decision.

Occasions may arise when more than one individual is required to perform a duty in the same area, and so a single anchor point would not be sufficient. For example, when cleaning a façade, a number of workers would need to be able to access the length of the building. In this case, a lifeline would be the appropriate choice because it would allow for more than one individual to work on the system at a given time (within the specified limits of the manufacturer’s instructions).

Type of movement required

Anchor points are most suitable for individuals working within a limited area. This means the worker should be able to connect once and complete their task without having to move beyond the range provided by their safety equipment.

Should the task require the individual to cover a larger area, a horizontal lifeline is recommended. This would remove the need for numerous disconnections and reconnections at different anchor points, and keep the worker connected to the lifeline at all times. This is key to ensuring safety, especially over long periods where fatigue could set in.

Work environment

The working environment can also play a role in deciding which of the two solutions should be used. For example, in a location where highly corrosive materials are present (such as an alloy processing plant), fixed anchor points made from steel or metal degrade rapidly, compromising their strength and performance.

In these situations, it is advisable to consider short-term installations such as webbing or rope lifeline systems. They can be installed for the work required, and then uninstalled and stored safely for later use.

A combination of systems

When working at heights, the optimal solution will always be the one that ensures the greatest safety for the worker. Often, it is not necessarily a choice between fixed anchor points and lifelines, but rather a decision about which to use when.

Take, for example, a worker who needs to climb a ladder in order to reach the place where work is to be carried out over a large area. In this case, it is highly recommended that the individual is first attached to a temporary vertical lifeline for their ascent up the ladder.

Once the worker reaches the top of the ladder, they would connect to a fixed anchor point to ensure their safety while installing a temporary horizontal lifeline. From here they would connect to the lifeline and carry out their task. This combination approach would ensure their safety at every stage, as they would be connected to a fall arrest system at all times.

Ultimately, it is best practice to conduct a proper assessment of the workspace before working at heights. In this way, the specific requirements of the site and the task can be determined to ensure a solution is chosen that fits the circumstances, always with the goal of ensuring the safest conditions for workers at any given time.

Published by

Ruaan Breedt

Ruaan Breedt is the working at height and fall protection specialist at BBF Safety Group. He has completed the following training and obtained accreditation for: Production efficiencies & ISO 9001:2015 auditor; fall arrest level 1, 2 and 3; confined space entry, exit and rescue; and is a fall arrest equipment testing specialist. He is a SABS technical committee member; SABS ISO mirror committee technical member; and fall arrest and rope access chamber member.
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