What You Should Know About Leading and Sharp Edges

Leading and sharp edges are a huge threat in the fall protection industry. Not only do leading and sharp edges present unique risks, but they also require special products. Using standard personal fall arrest products can have catastrophic results for employees working on leading and sharp edges.

OSHA defines a leading edge as “a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is . . . above a lower level.” Falling greater than the trigger height (leading edge) is often accompanied by a sharp edge. A sharp edge is straightforward, meaning an edge that has the ability to cut or damage traditional lanyards. Sharp edges can be anywhere and should be identified during a fall hazard analysis. The smaller the edge radius, the sharper the edge is. For this reason employees should know where sharp edges are and how to avoid them.

There are four unique risks with leading and sharp edges:

  • There is an increased fall distance. The increased fall distance occurs when a worker is anchored at foot level. Per OSHA and ANSI, the Dorsal D-Ring is the only suitable D-Ring for use with fall arrest systems. That’s why it’s important to add the distance from the floor to the Dorsal D-Ring to the total fall  distance   before working near the leading and sharp edges.
  • There is a longer lock-up speed on lifelines. The increased fall distance requires more time to reach the velocity needed to engage the lifeline. This delay could result in harm to the user and damaged equipment.
  • There is an increase in fall arrest forces. Increased fall distance and longer lock-up speed could result in a higher fall arrest impact to the body.
  • There is an increase to potential swing hazards. The jolt on the lifeline after the added increase to fall distance could swing the user into walls, equipment, or machinery at a velocity high enough to severely injure the user. The most dangerous potential injury of swing fall is head trauma. OSHA has documented many incidents where the personal fall arrest system functioned properly, but the user was severely harmed with head trauma by hitting his or her head on a near-by object. If the user is not harmed by swing hazards, the force of the swing fall could cut the lifeline on a sharp edge. Remember to check carefully for sharp edges so that the lifeline does not get snagged or cut.

When working with leading and sharp edges, remember that standard lanyards are not rated for use when anchored at foot level. ANSI Z359.14 says that equipment not designed specifically for anchoring at foot level will exceed acceptable safety requirements in the case of a fall. Make sure that your equipment is designed for use with leading and sharp edges.


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Nathan Muller

Senior Technical Writer | Rigidlifelines.com
Nathan Muller is the Senior Technical Writer for Spanco and Rigid Lifelines. Nathan has nearly four years of experience in technical communications and copyediting. He graduated from Bob Jones University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Professional Writing. He is also a member of the Society of Technical Communication.