Leading Edge Fall Protection: Take Safety to New Heights

Leading edge fall protection refers to safety measures put in place to protect workers from falls. Read on to learn more.

leading edge fall protection

Leading edge fall protection refers to safety measures put in place to protect workers from falls when they are working on the edge of a surface or structure, such as a roof, bridge or scaffold.


In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the development and implementation of advanced leading edge fall protection systems that provide maximum safety and reliability for workers at heights. These new systems leverage cutting-edge technologies and materials to provide the highest level of protection possible, and they have revolutionized the way workers approach fall protection.


In this article, we will explore some of the latest advancements in leading edge fall protection safety equipment and how they are helping to keep workers safe.


What is a leading edge?

A leading edge is the forward edge of a surface or structure, where the work is being done and where the risk of falling is highest. Leading edges can be found in a variety of work settings, such as roofs, bridges, floors and scaffolding. They can be horizontal or vertical and can pose a significant hazard to employees who are working near them.

A typical leading edge work situation would be when a worker uses a fall protection system anchored at foot level behind him and then moves away from the anchor point, exposing him/her to a potential fall over the edge of the surface being worked on.


Fall protection equipment is required during leading edge applications when the elevation between the leading edge and next level or the ground is six feet or greater.


What is a sharp edge?

Simply put, a sharp edge is an edge that is not rounded and has the potential to cut or completely sever most types of lifelines. Examples of a sharp edge include: a beam edge, a sharp corner, a steel bar or any protruding sharp object that is not rounded.


Sharp edges can of course cause serious injury or even death in the event of a fall, making it critical to have proper fall protection measures in place. It's important to note that the smaller the edge radius, the sharper the edge.


What are some of the risks when working around sharp and leading edges?

Outside of the primary risk is that your lifeline can be frayed, cut or severed by a sharp edge, there are several other risks to consider when dealing with leading or an unprotected side and edge.

  • Increased fall distances: When workers are attached at foot level, as they typically are in leading edge applications, they will fall farther than they would if they were anchored at shoulder height or directly overhead. You should also make sure that your fall protection system has been specifically designed for leading edge applications.
  • Variability of SRL lock-up speed: Self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) react to a fall when the lifeline accelerates out of the housing at a certain velocity. When an SRL is anchored at foot level, the lifeline may not meet this acceleration velocity until after the user’s D-ring passes over the leading edge and the user falls below the level of the anchor. This means the user may have already fallen greater than five feet before the SRL senses sufficient acceleration to engage the brake mechanism and begins arresting the fall.
  • Increased fall arrest forces: Because longer falls have the potential to have greater impact on the body during fall arrest, many leading edge and sharp edge rated products contain additional energy-absorbing devices.
  • Increased potential for swing fall hazards: Swing fall hazards can occur when a worker falls from an elevated surface and swings like a pendulum before coming to a stop. Swing falls most commonly occur when the worker is not directly above the anchorage point or if the anchorage point is not located directly above the work area. The danger of a swing fall is compounded if the worker’s lifeline is extended over a sharp edge and the lifeline saws back and forth across the edge. This can lead to a frayed, cut or severed lifeline potentially resulting in a dangerous fall.


What fall protection products should I purchase for employees working around leading and sharp edges?

Leading and sharp edge fall protection measures can include a variety of products, such as personal fall arrest systems, guardrails and other equipment designed to prevent falls. These measures are put in place to help workers maintain their balance, prevent them from tripping or slipping, and to keep them from falling off the edge of the surface they are working on.


If a worker is working near a sharp edge, they may also need to wear specialized PPE, such as cut-resistant gloves or cut-resistant clothing.


3M™ Protecta® Rebel™ Leading Edge Self-Retracting Lifeline

This is an economical way to replace lanyards with the versatility and added safety of a self-retracting lifeline. These self-retracting lifelines are designed for leading edge applications. Comes with a heavy-duty thermoplastic housing. 


Available in various lengths of galvanized steel cable. The speed-sensing brake keeps forces to a minimum, and reduces clearance requirements. The impact indicator produces visual proof of a fall arrest.

3M™ DBI-SALA® Smart Lock Leading Edge Self-Retracting Lifeline

This lifeline is 3M's smartest SRL to date. From reducing nuisance lockups, to simplifying inspections, every detail of this SRL is designed to help increase your productivity, safety and convenience. It has a 310-pound weight capacity.

  • Rugged and extremely lightweight thermoplastic housing with built-in ergonomic handle
  • Advanced motion capture, horizontal use is designed to reduce nuisance lockups when compared to previous generation SRLs
  • Highly visible orange leading edge external energy absorber indicates the product is designed for sharp edge applications


3M™ DBI-SALA® EZ-Stop™ Leading Edge Double Leg 100% Tie-Off Cable Shock Absorbing Lanyard

EZ-Stop™ lanyards feature the world's smallest and lightest shock absorber, water-repellant and abrasion-resistant webbing, and a build quality that is second to none. This lanyard is designed for leading edge applications. The aluminum comfort grip connectors keep the user's hand out of the way. 


Exclusive Hi-10™ Vectran™ energy management materials provide second-to-none abrasion, cut and chemical resistance and efficient shock absorption. Should a fall occur, the lanyard's unique energy absorbing system will activate, stopping the fall and reducing the forces imposed on the user to safe levels.


3M™ DBI-SALA® Construction Roof Anchor  

Whether your roof is flat or sloped, wood, metal, or concrete, this anchor helps you get the job done efficiently and securely. Pair this anchor with the 3M™ DBI-SALA® Smart Lock SRL for comfort and productivity with reduced unintentional lockups. 


Unit provides freedom of movement around the anchor. Compact and lightweight design features fast and easy attachment for added productivity. Durable construction stands up to tough work environments.

  • Installs to rebar ring during pre-cast concrete work
  • Installs in seconds utilizing built-in ratcheting securement system
  • Allows user to secure anchor in place quickly without special tools
  • Anchor can be removed and simply reinstalled in a new location for added jobsite flexibility
  • Dual-use design can also be used as end anchors for a two-person temporary 3M™ DBI-SALA® Horizontal Lifeline System
  • For use with 3M™ DBI-SALA® Smart Lock Leading Edge Self-Retracting Lifeline, anchor is designed to know the difference between regular movement and a fall-reducing unintentional lock-up


Guardian Fall Protection G-Rail System

A free-standing, portable fall prevention guardrail system requiring no rooftop surface attachment.


In addition to providing PPE and physical barriers, it is important to assess the work environment and identify potential sharp edge hazards. This may involve conducting regular inspections and risk assessments to identify any potential hazards and taking corrective action to mitigate the risk of injury.


Related: Fall protection is important, especially when working from heights. Learn more about the ABC’s of your own personal fall arrest system.


In Conclusion

Employers are responsible for providing a safe work environment for their employees, which includes ensuring that proper leading edge fall protection measures are in place to protect workers from potential hazards. By providing adequate training, equipment and hazard identification, the chances of accidents and injuries can be greatly reduced.




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