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THE TRUTH ABOUT SRL/RETRACTABLE SYSTEMS 

            Have you been told that in order to be in federal compliance in some situations you can easily use an SRL or retractable system?  If so, you need the following information.  Although there are no OSHA standards that are applicable to retractable systems, OSHA does state that manufacturer instructions should be adhered to.

          SRLs and retractable systems were first developed only for situations where a worker is climbing or descending ladders to access other levels.  The fact of the matter is, to be safe a worker can be no more than 15 degrees from the center of the SRL – therefore, if you lean over to pick up a tool, you’re already 15 degrees plus over your threshold.

          Popular consensus of information given by manufacturers state the following:

“Retractable lifelines (see figure below) automatically retract any slack line between the worker and the tie-off point. While this type of line doesn't require a rope grab, it must be kept directly above the worker to eliminate any potential swing hazard if the worker falls.” (emphasis added)

Figure B

            In all information reviewed from available sources, it is rarely stated anywhere that you cannot contact a lower level or that in 99% of the places where fall protection is used that there is a lower level.  It is stated, however, Please Note: The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only. This publication is not a substitute for review of the applicable government regulations and standards, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the cited regulation or consult with an attorney.”

          CAUTION:  Much of the information reviewed about retractable systems is very contradictory.  In some areas they state “...[the retractable] must be kept directly above the worker” while in other areas of the same publications it will be stated “When an overhead anchorage does not exist, mounting a self-retracting lifeline at or below the back D-ring of the user’s harness may be necessary.”   The definition of must indicates that somebody is compelled to do something because of a rule or law or that it is necessary or advisable to do something.  To avoid hazardous conditions when using an SRL or retractable system please use the retractable only in the manner mandated by manufacturers; i.e. only use this system in situations where you can keep yourself directly under the system.  Read the instructions carefully and be aware that the Big Words Give and the Little Words Take Away.