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Benefits of personal fall limiters

May 1, 2011

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Question: What are the benefits of using a retractable personal fall limiter over a traditional shock-absorbing lanyard? Has the trend toward smaller retractable PFLs eliminated the pursuit of new lanyard innovations?

Responding is Hugh Smith, regional product line marketing manager, Miller by Honeywell, Franklin, PA.

Answer: The shock-absorbing lanyard has long been considered the preferred connecting device in a personal fall protection system. But personal fall limiters, which were introduced only a few years ago, have become a viable, cost-effective alternative that provides greater safety. Lanyards will soon be a thing of the past, much like fall protection safety belts were 15 years ago.

The quick-acting braking system of PFLs that arrest falls within inches, not feet, has safety managers retiring their shock-absorbing lanyards in favor of a new generation of compact, lightweight PFLs. PFLs greatly reduce the risk that workers will use the wrong equipment (traditional lanyards) as they move around a jobsite, possibly to a location with reduced fall clearance.

While traditional 6-foot shock-absorbing lanyards allow for up to 6 feet of free-fall distance before activating, and another 3.5 feet of deceleration distance before arresting a fall, a PFL requires less than 2 feet to arrest free falls. If you have less than 18 feet of fall clearance, you had better have a retractable on because if you fall, there is a high probability you will be hitting the ground or a lower level.

Today’s high-strength, high-impact materials allow product engineers to design smaller units that can withstand the required fall forces. Some models accommodate workers up to 400 pounds, including tool weight. The PFL lifeline is designed to retract into the unit when not in use, reducing tripping hazards as workers perform their jobs. In addition, the retractable lifeline feature protects it from harsh environments such as ultraviolet rays, dirt and concrete dust for greater durability and longer service life.

With the reduction in size and weight comes a reduction in price, making PFLs more affordable than ever. In recent years, fall protection manufacturers have focused their attention more on PFL innovations and less on traditional shock-absorbing lanyards. 

Manufacturers now are introducing PFLs with 100 percent tie-off fall protection capability (dual legs or twin legs); workers can move safely anywhere on a jobsite without ever being disconnected and at risk of a fall.

Advances in personal fall protection have taken us from the safety belt to 6-foot shock-absorbing lanyards to PFLs. On the jobsite, no one believes he or she will be involved in a fall. However, if a person does fall, an incapacitating injury or worse could be the result. If the fall is safely arrested, the protection provided by a PFL is invaluable.

Editor’s Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as National Safety Council endorsements.

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