Using the right fall protection equipment in the right situations can help prevent severe injury and death. Energy absorbing lanyards (EAL), for example, protect workers during falls, but only if they are used correctly.
In this guide, you’ll learn the essentials of choosing and using the right energy absorbing lanyards for your industry. With this information, you can maintain a safe and compliant workplace for yourself and your employees.
An energy absorbing lanyard is a connector that is designed to decelerate workers as they fall, limiting the force and impact on their bodies. These connectors attach to safety harnesses and absorb energy in one of two ways:
All EALs are available in lengths between 3-6’ and are designed to withstand the forces created by either a 6’ or 12’ freefall. When deployed, energy absorbers add additional distance to the fall. Because of this, it is critical to calculate the minimum fall clearance for every situation. This distance must include the length of your lanyard, the deceleration distance added by the energy absorber, potential harness stretch, the distance from your dorsal D-ring height, and added safety factor length. For a 6’ energy absorbing lanyard, for instance, the minimum fall clearance is 17.5 feet.
If calculated incorrectly, workers may contact the lower level or obstruction during a fall, even with a fall protection system.
Energy absorbing lanyards are one of the most common connectors available. They are inexpensive, readily available, and lightweight enough to minimize discomfort. When used for the proper applications and in the right way, they can keep workers in numerous industries safe from falls.
The energy absorbing lanyard, also known as a shock absorbing lanyard, is a fairly simple device, so improvements in its weight capacity are the only changes it has seen over the years. Though it is a standard connector, it isn’t the only lanyard available for fall protection. The types of lanyards listed below are designed for specific applications, so read the descriptions below carefully.
Positioning lanyards are another common type of connector, but they must not be used for fall arrest. Rather than catching workers during a fall, these connectors hold users in place on elevated surfaces. The maximum allowable freefall with a positioning lanyard is 2 feet. If a painter or welder was working high up on the wall of a building, for example, a positioning lanyard would connect their harness to the anchor point on the building. This allows workers to keep their hands free as they work. Positioning lanyards must only be used in approved situations and attached to positioning hip D-rings, not the dorsal D-ring.
These connectors prevent falls by keeping workers away from the edges of an elevated work surface. They must not be used to arrest falls, nor be exposed to any amount of freefall. Instead, fall restraint lanyards allow workers to move freely throughout a worksite without having to worry about the dangers presented by the edge. You can choose a fixed lanyard for spaces larger than the reach of its length or an adjustable lanyard for worksites with varying edge distances. Fall restraint lanyards are a best practice when working in Mobile Elevated Work Platform (MEWP) or aerial lifts.
As mentioned, EALs use extra material to absorb the energy created during a fall and minimize the force on the worker. These connectors can be used for fall arrest purposes.
Shock absorbing lanyard is just another name for energy absorbing lanyard and functions the same way.
Unlike EALs, these connectors aren’t fixed-length. They use an internal braking system to arrest a fall when activated by a sudden force. This system is called a self-retracting device (SRD).
If you are looking for a retractable safety lanyard, you might need a self-retracting device, not a lanyard. We recommend connecting with a reputable manufacturer to determine your needs.
All energy absorbing lanyards include a shock-absorbing component, but this equipment is available in multiple configurations and intended for different applications, including:
Shock absorbing lanyard configurations also differ in the method of energy absorption and the connector’s design.
POY stands for Partially Oriented Yarn. The energy absorber on this type of lanyard is made of flat, loosely woven webbing. During a fall, this webbing stretches on impact, much like a rubber band, which decelerates the worker’s motion. The elasticity of this material also helps eliminate the amount of force put on the user.
When it’s not taking the strain of the worker’s weight, the POY material is soft and pliable. In use, it stretches tightly. To protect the webbing from wear and tear, manufacturers cover these energy absorbers with tubular webbing that can resist UV degradation and abrasion.
Tearaway lanyards don’t use stretchy materials to decelerate falls. Instead, this equipment includes a length of webbing that is folded and sewn together. This material is then stored inside an expansion pack on the lanyard.
During a fall, the force of the worker’s weight hitting this section tears the attached segments away from each other. This slows the fall and absorbs some of the energy created by the motion, decreasing the force placed on the worker’s body.
Often referred to as “bungee” lanyards, elastic lanyards expand and contract with the wearer’s movements and decelerate a fall with an internal POY material or an external shock pack. A strong tubular webbing covers the elastic to shield it from abrasion and UV degradation damage. Generally, elastic will maintain its flexibility longer than an energy absorber made of webbing.
Many workers prefer the elastic design because it decreases the amount of length they have to work around. The bunched material prevents the loose length from being a tripping hazard, further improving ease of use and safety.
In addition to different types of materials, energy absorbing lanyards are also available in different design configurations. Y-leg lanyards, also called dual leg lanyards, feature dual lanyards connected to a single hook, which then attaches to the dorsal D-ring. These connectors are required for 100% tie-off situations.
These connectors make changing positions and/or transitioning elevations much safer and easier. If a worker needs to move up a structure that doesn’t offer an overhead anchorage, for example, they can move one hook at a time to ensure they stay connected to the structure 100% of the time.
When connected to the structure, the unused leg of the dual leg lanyard should be connected to the full body harness lanyard keeper. Workers should hang lanyards on this small piece of nylon when they aren’t in use. If they fall, the keeper breaks away from the harness, allowing the worker to hang vertically from the active lanyard.
As you might expect, the single configuration of the energy absorbing lanyard only includes one lanyard and hook. Less material means less weight, so single leg lanyards are typically lighter than Y-leg options. The additional lanyard on a dual leg configuration can sometimes get in the way when it’s not in use, so some workers appreciate the ease offered by single options.
Unfortunately, the single lanyard design can make moving locations more dangerous. If workers don’t have access to an overhead anchorage point and may have to move positions without this protection, single leg lanyards may not be the best option. Carefully evaluate your fall protection requirements when choosing between these designs.
Though the material and design may differ, all EALs include three basic components:
Connectors are the hooks that connect the lanyard to the D-ring. These components include carabiners, scaffold hooks, snap hooks, web loops, and rebar hooks. It’s important to use the right mechanism for the situation. Under the OSHA 29 CFR 1926.502 standard added in 1998, for example, you must only use self-closing and self-locking snap hooks that are designed to connect to the equipment you’re using. Non-locking snap hooks are prone to rollout, a situation where the mechanism unintentionally disengages from the anchor during use. Using the right hook prevents this danger.
Decelerators/energy absorbers are the elements that reduce the amount of force created by the fall. The two most common types are POY and tearaways. These components should be on the end of the lanyard closest to the body.
The lifeline is the main part of the lanyard that the energy absorber is attached to. Polyester webbing is the most common option, but these components come in a variety of materials, including nylon, Kevlar, Nomex, rope, cable, and more. The material you choose depends on the application and hazards your connector will have to withstand.
You should always use energy absorbing lanyards when your company’s competent person deems them necessary for the work and job site. They will make this decision after completing a task hazard, or job safety, anaylsis. After reviewing the scope of work and hazards, the competent person will determine what kind of mitigation measure is necessary to abate the hazard, which may include EALs. For this equipment, determining if there’s appropriate fall clearance for a shock-absorbing lanyard is the most important consideration.
Choosing the right energy absorbing lanyard requires a solid understanding of the application it will be used for. If your workers will be exposed to hazards that may affect your equipment, such as electricity or weld spatter, it’s critical to select connectors made for those situations. Ensuring the lanyard’s rating matches its intended use will help you find the right option.
The type of hooks is another thing to consider, especially in situations where you don’t have access to overhead tie-offs. You should also evaluate which weight ratings you need. This number should include both the weight of the worker who will use the lanyard and the weight of any equipment they will carry. ANSI requires connectors to be rated for a worker weighing between 130-310 lbs, including clothes, tools, equipment, etc... FallTech heavyweight lanyards can be used for workers weighing up to 425 lbs, including clothes, tools, equipment, etc...
Beyond these considerations, preference and price are the only key differentiators for this equipment. As with every piece of equipment, durability, dependability, factory certification/warranty, and ease of use should factor in your decision. We recommend checking the reputation of the manufacturer, confirming their ISO accreditation, and reviewing Declaration of Conformity (DOC) and test data before purchasing.
Shock-absorbing lanyards may be a fairly standard piece of equipment, but they can easily mean the difference between life and death for a worker in a fall. If you choose the wrong length, material, or configuration, your employees will have confidence in a fall protection system that may fail at a critical moment.
Use the steps below to evaluate and select the best EAL for your team. You can also connect with a FallTech expert for further information and assistance.
The very first step for any job that may require fall protection is the task hazard analysis. The company’s competent person must find and evaluate every hazard. During this analysis, they should also determine if there is enough clearance to use an energy absorbing lanyard. This is the most important step. To protect workers from injury and death, this space must be at least 17.5 ft. (measured from the anchorage to lower level or obstruction). If the minimum fall clearance for that situation and device isn’t met, you cannot use an EAL safely.
As mentioned above, the type of work you do determines the connector you should look for. Can workers use an overhead anchorage? Will the lanyard be exposed to a leading edge, weld spatter, heat, electricity, or another hazard that can damage it? How much extra tool weight will workers carry? What kind of hook or mechanism is needed for a safe set-up?
Use the answers to these questions to narrow down your options.
There are two lengths to consider when choosing an energy absorbing lanyard. First, how long should the lanyard be? You can find standard options ranging from 3 feet in length to up to 6 feet in length.
It’s essential to remember, however, that longer lanyards increase the distance and amount of force the worker will experience during a fall. For this reason, always choose the shortest length that meets your needs.
The second length to consider is the freefall distance. There are two classes of EALs: 6’ freefall rated and 12’ freefall rated. Here is what to evaluate when choosing between these options:
Work with your competent person to understand which type of EAL is best for your team and applications.
This step requires both preference considerations and knowledge of the work you perform. Workers who need to move around and climb the structures they work on will require dual leg lanyards, for example. Some people prefer to use elastic while others like webbing.
The most important thing to keep in mind as you choose your configuration is safety. If your equipment is too heavy or annoying to deal with, workers may choose to work without it. Be sure to choose the lanyards that will both meet safety requirements and provide ease of use.
These features play into your worker’s comfort. While a bungee-style EAL isn’t necessarily safer than a non-elastic option, they are easier to work around. When workers don’t have to worry about tripping over their equipment, they are more likely to use it properly and consistently.
Hardware is another item to consider. All of the hardware on your lanyard will be made of either aluminum or steel. Aluminum is lighter and easier to carry, but is also more expensive. Steel may be slightly stronger than aluminum, but can also be more susceptible to corrosion. Note the various elements that can affect hardware, such as corrosive or reactive environmental conditions, before choosing your gear.
By this point, you should know which requirements your shock-resistant lanyards need to meet. Once you find an option with the right features, research the manufacturer. Read reviews and evaluate their reputation in the industry. Confirm their ISO accreditation.
Next, ensure the lanyard is compliant with both ANSI Z359.13 and OSHA 1926.502 and 1910.66. You can confirm this information on the DOC documentation, which must be available for viewing, and the testing documentation, if available.
For further information, reach out to the manufacturer to learn more about the product. A company that takes the time to help you protect your workers will give the same attention and care to the products they make.
Inspecting your energy absorbing lanyard should be part of your daily routine, both before and after you finish working. Before you start, be sure to remove your gloves so you can feel for damage.
Here’s how to thoroughly inspect each component:
For a detailed inspection process, check out our video below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOixwbj_auI
How long are shock absorbing lanyards good for?
Generally, EALs are safe to use as long as they pass the pre-use inspection process detailed above and Competent Person inspection. The manufacturer should offer guidance on the product service life, so look into the documentation or reach out to them for more information.
Can you reuse an energy absorbing lanyard? If the lanyard was used during a fall, no. It must be discarded. The energy absorbing component is one and done, so it will not protect against another fall.
If the equipment is damaged, your Competent Person will inspect it to see if it is still safe to use. Hold onto it until they make their determination.
What is the maximum length for an energy absorbing lanyard?
OSHA only allows for a maximum freefall distance of 6 ft., which means the maximum length for an energy absorbing lanyard could be 3 ft. or 6 ft., depending on the application.
What is the maximum weight an energy absorbing lanyard can support during a fall?
The maximum weight capacity for energy absorbing lanyards is specific to the product you choose and its manufacturer. That said, ANSI mandates that lanyard capacity includes weights as low as 130 lbs and as high as 310 lbs. If you modify your system to carry heavier weights, such as by using a heavyweight lanyard, your system can be used for workers that exceed 310 lbs.
OSHA requires manufacturers to list the maximum capacity for each product of the label, so check there for the specific specs.
When it comes to fall protection equipment, you can’t afford to get it wrong. FallTech offers top-of-the-line, American-made products that keep your team safe and your company in compliance. Our sales staff are industry experts who can help you find the equipment you need for your specific work, industry, and needs. If our standard options don’t work, we will also work with you to find one that will.
To keep our products ready for any situation, we use rigorous testing processes at our ISO-accredited facility and ISO-accredited laboratory. All of our test results and data are published online for ease of access and total transparency. With this information and our DOC, you can have full confidence in the equipment you purchase.
Choosing FallTech for your energy absorbing lanyards means partnering with us to build an exceptional fall protection program. We are always available and happy to answer questions, give advice, and help you find the gear you need.
Put your employees’ safety first by exploring our energy absorbing lanyards today.
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Designed, tested, and manufactured in the USA In-house ISO 17025 accredited test lab