When you’re working at heights, fall protection is an essential part of your PPE. Fall arrest systems are designed to prevent injuries related to falls by either stopping a fall in progress or preventing workers from even reaching a point where a fall is possible. Passive protection like railings, aren’t always the best option or may not even be available in certain situations. This is where workers can benefit from safety lifelines, like horizontal lifeline systems.


What is a horizontal lifeline system?

A horizontal lifeline system (also known as fall protection cables, cable fall protection systems, rat lines, or HLL Systems) is a fall arrest system that can be used at overhead or foot levels. They are usually installed at worksites where multiple workers are at heights and/or when there’s a lack of existing anchor points but you need to be able to move freely around an area. Usually, these systems consist of a wire or cable anchored and tensioned between two or more anchor points, depending on the length. The lifeline also has a slider or shuttle that you attach to other fall arrest equipment, like harnesses, lanyards, and hooks.

Note that a horizontal lifeline system alone is not sufficient for fall protection. Workers at heights will also need properly fitted harnesses, lanyards, and other PPE as part of a complete fall restraint system to ensure worker safety.

What are the two types of lifelines used in fall protection?

The two major lifelines used in fall arrest systems are horizontal and vertical. They’re largely the same in terms of how workers attach themselves to the system but differ in the types of falls they’re designed to protect against. Horizontal lifelines are designed to protect against falls that happen while a worker is on a single level—like tripping while standing or moving on a construction site. The horizontal fall arrest system has a flexible line between anchorage points designed to absorb the energy of a fall. Horizontal systems are also better for job sites with many workers because they can accommodate multiple attachment points.

A vertical lifeline system is designed for falls when a worker is dropping from one level to another. Unlike a horizontal fall arrest system, a vertical system only has two attachment points: one to the worker’s fall arrest PPE and the other to a single point on the structure that’s being climbed. These are better suited for one worker that’s working at heights. How do you inspect a horizontal lifeline?

Because it is crucial for a fall protection system to work properly, you should regularly inspect your horizontal lifeline. ANSI standards recommend inspecting these systems at least once a year, but confirm with your owner’s manual or manufacturer guidelines for your particular system and follow them.

Like with other safety equipment systems and safety supplies, your horizontal lifeline should be inspected by a competent, knowledgeable professional. This inspection requires looking over the system closely for any of the following signs of damage:

  • Damaged or modified fixtures or fasteners
  • Corroded, rusted, or otherwise deteriorated components
  • Damaged rope
  • Any obstructions or abrasive materials
  • Broken or distorted sleeves and connectors
  • A triggered impact detection system, which suggests that the system has already been used in a fall