Lifeline: what it is and when it is mandatory


Emma Potter

The protection of workers is a categorical imperative in every professional field, but it takes on an even more crucial importance when it comes to operations at height.

Activities carried out at considerable heights involve substantial risks for operators, making it essential to adopt effective preventive measures. Among these, the life line It is a fundamental tool to guarantee the safety of those who work at height.

We take a closer look at the nature of the lifeline, the circumstances that make its use mandatory, and the regulatory framework that governs its installation and use.

The goal is to provide a comprehensive analysis that is useful to both construction industry experts and private individuals.

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Definition and operation

A lifeline represents a fall arrest system designed to protect operators working at height. It is configured as a anchoring mechanism consisting of a metal cable or rod that is securely attached to the building structure, typically on the roof. Its primary function is to provide a reliable anchor point to which workers can attach their safety harness.

The operating principle of the lifeline is based on limiting the free fall of the operator in the event of slipping or loss of balance. When installed and used correctly, the lifeline allows the worker to move freely in the work area, constantly maintaining a safe connection with the structure.

In the event of a fall, the system promptly stops the descent, significantly reducing the risk of serious injury.

Lifelines can be designed for horizontal or vertical use, depending on the specific needs of the workplace. Horizontal systems are particularly popular on rooftops and allow workers to move across the entire length of the roof. Vertical systems, on the other hand, are more suitable for ladders or similar structures.

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Reference legislation

The use of lifelines is regulated by a complex body of legislation, both at European and national level. In the European context, the reference standards are:

  • UNI EN 795:2012: This standard establishes the requirements for anchor devices used as components of individual systems for protection against falls. It classifies anchor devices into five categories (from A to E) based on their type and method of installation.
  • UNI 11578:2015: this standard applies specifically to anchoring devices intended for permanent installation, integrating and further detailing the requirements of UNI EN 795:2012.

At a national level, the main reference is represented by Legislative Decree 81/2008, known as the Consolidated Law on Safety at Work. This decree establishes the obligation to use fall arrest systems, including lifelines, for work carried out at heights equal to or greater than 2 meters.

It should be noted that many Italian regions have enacted specific laws that regulate the installation and use of lifelines. These regional regulations may impose additional or specific requirements for the design, installation and maintenance of fall arrest systems.

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When is a lifeline mandatory?

The obligation to install a lifeline is mainly determined by Legislative Decree 81/2008, which establishes the need to adopt protection measures against falls from a height in all situations in which one works at a height equal to or greater than 2 meters above the first obstacle below.
Specifically, the installation of a lifeline becomes mandatory in the following cases:

  • Construction of new buildings: During the design and construction phase of new buildings, it is necessary to provide for the installation of permanent fall arrest systems, including lifelines.
  • maintenance work on existing buildings: when maintenance work is carried out on roofs or at height, such as the installation or maintenance of photovoltaic systems, antennas, or satellite dishes.
  • roof re-roofing: in the case of renovation or complete re-roofing of a building.
  • transformation of a roof into a workplace: when a roof, placed at a height of at least 2 metres, becomes a place where work activities are regularly carried out.

It is important to note that the obligation to install a lifeline extends to the entire Italian territory, regardless of specific regional regulations. However, some regions have introduced additional requirements, such as the need to present a detailed design of the fall arrest system to obtain construction or renovation permits.

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Lifelines are divided into different typologies, each one suitable for specific situations and needs. According to the UNI EN 795:2012 regulation, anchoring devices are classified into five main categories:

  • Type A: Point anchors
    These are fixed anchor points, designed to be fixed to vertical, horizontal or inclined surfaces. They can be used individually or as part of a more complex system.
  • Type B: Temporary and transportable anchoring devices
    These devices are designed to be easily removed and repositioned. They are ideal for temporary jobs or in situations where permanent anchors cannot be installed.
  • Type C: Horizontal flexible anchor lines
    These are the most common lifelines on roofs. They consist of a flexible cable stretched between two or more anchor points, allowing the worker to move freely along the line.
  • Type D: Horizontal rigid anchor rails
    similar to type C, but use a rigid rail instead of a flexible cable. They offer greater stability and are ideal for situations where greater strength is required.
  • Type E: Deadweight anchors
    These devices use mass and friction to provide an anchorage on horizontal surfaces. They are particularly useful on flat roofs where it is not possible to drill into the surface to install fixed anchors.

The choice of lifeline type depends on various factors, including the structure of the building, the nature of the work to be performed, the frequency of use and the specific safety requirements of the site.

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Installation and maintenance

Installing a lifeline is a critical process that requires specific skills and must be performed by qualified professionals. The process generally includes the following steps:

  • Design: A specialized technician evaluates the structure of the building and determines the most suitable system, considering factors such as the type of roofing, access points and specific site needs.
  • Preparation of documentation: It is necessary to prepare and submit a detailed project that includes:
    – plan of the fall arrest system
    – technical report on design choices
    – structural verification
    – technical data sheets of the components
  • Installation: specialized technicians proceed with the installation of the system, strictly following the manufacturer’s specifications and current regulations.
  • Testing: After installation, the system is tested to ensure full functionality and safety.
  • Certification: the installer issues a declaration of correct installation, accompanied by the technical documentation and certifications of the components used.

Regular maintenance is essential to ensure the continued effectiveness of the system. General guidelines include:

  • Annual visual inspections to check for obvious damage or corrosion
  • thorough checks every two years, which include checking the tension of the cables and the integrity of the anchor points
  • complete reviews every four years, which may include load tests and structural assessments

It is essential to keep a detailed record of all inspections and maintenance performed.

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Benefits and importance for safety

The adoption of lifelines offers several significant advantages:

  • Fall Prevention: The main benefit is the drastic reduction in the risk of falls from heights, which are a major cause of serious and fatal injuries in the construction industry.
  • Operational Flexibility: Lifelines allow workers to move freely on the roof while maintaining constant protection.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Installing lifelines ensures compliance with safety regulations, avoiding fines and legal liabilities.
  • Low cost: Compared to other solutions such as temporary scaffolding, lifelines offer permanent protection at lower costs in the long term.
  • Property enhancement: The presence of permanent security systems can increase the value of the building and facilitate future maintenance operations.
  • Peace of mind for owners and workers: Knowing that a reliable protection system is in place adds peace of mind to those working at height and those responsible for safety.

The importance of lifelines goes beyond mere regulatory compliance: they represent a concrete investment in the safety and well-being of workers, helping to create a culture of prevention in the construction sector.

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Conclusions and final considerations

Lifelines are a crucial element in the strategy for preventing accidents in work at height. Their correct design, installation and maintenance are essential to guarantee a safe working environment that complies with current regulations.

For property owners and construction professionals, it is essential to understand the importance of these systems and ensure that they are properly implemented. This not only protects workers but also legally protects those responsible for the work.

In conclusion, investing in safety systems such as lifelines should not be perceived as a mere regulatory obligation, but as a responsible choice that enhances the life and health of workers. With the continuous evolution of technologies and regulations in the field of workplace safety, it is essential to stay up to date and ready to adopt the most effective solutions to protect those who work at height.

Safety is not a cost, but an investment in the future. Adopting cutting-edge protection systems such as lifelines not only safeguards human lives, but also contributes to creating a more efficient and productive work environment. It is a choice that reflects responsible corporate ethics and a forward-looking vision of business.

We envision a future where every roof, every structure at height, is equipped with cutting-edge safety systems. A future where work-at-height accidents become a thing of the past. This future is within our reach, but it requires the joint commitment of legislators, entrepreneurs, workers and safety professionals.