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Choosing a Fall Protection System – Lifeline or Rail System?

Choosing the right Fall Protection System is key to meeting health and safety demands and ensuring Working at Height personnel are protected. Important items to consider are whether a certain solution can be installed on the surface, the type of work that will be performed while using the system and the amount of fall clearance that is available.


Horizontal Lifeline and Rail System

One of the solutions that is often applied is a trajectory of Anchor Points with wire rope tensioned between them. These are usually found on flat roofs, walls, or overhead structures. These are known as Horizontal Lifeline Systems. Working at Height personnel are attached to the system by connecting their lanyard to a runner that slides along the wire rope and Anchor Points.

Another option to use on roofs, walls or overhead structures is a system that resembles a Horizontal Lifeline System: a Rail System. This system is connected to Anchor Points with a rigid overhead rail track. Specially designed runners slide along the rail to enable workers to walk while attached.

Although their functionality and appearance look the same, both systems have their advantages and features that fit a specific situation. In this blog, we will outline those features and describe the best solution for each situation.



The amount of deflection of a system with wire rope is bigger than with a solid Rail System. This has its advantages, but it also has disadvantages.

The advantage of little deflection (like with a Rail System) is that the fall distance is shorter than with a Lifeline System. This means a Rail System might be a better solution when limited fall clearance is available in the projected situation.


Integration with a Building’s Design

When installed, the total height of a Horizontal Lifeline System on a roof is about 24 centimetres (9.5 inches). A Rail System is usually shorter, standing at approximately 15 centimetres (6 inches).

Overall, when installed on a roof, both systems are not visible from a lower level. But, when used on walls or overhead, the Rail System can easily be integrated into the structure. The Rail System can also be integrated into the walls or ceiling when construction has not yet been completed. This way, the aesthetical value of a building is unaffected.

Fall Protection can be integrated into a building’s design in the early stages of the design process, using XSPlatforms’ 3D fall protection objects.


Replacement or Repairs

Due to frequent use over time or because of a Fall Arrest, a Fall Protection system can be damaged. A competent person must assess the system and replace the damaged parts, or the entire system.

In the case of a Lifeline System, when the wire rope is damaged, it needs to be replaced immediately. This can either be done by cutting the damaged part out and replacing it with a new piece of wire rope (by using a special connector that connects the old and new parts of wire rope, XTend for example). Another option (depending on the length of the system) would be to replace the whole wire rope. Both options will take a significant amount of time. When a fall has occurred, not only must the wire rope be replaced, but also other parts of the system, like Anchor Points, Energy Absorbers etc.

A Rail System consists of rail pieces with fixed lengths of 3 to 6 metres (10 to 20 ft). Replacing a damaged piece of rail is a matter of detaching the damaged part and replacing it with a new one.

A competent professional must check both systems and re-certify them for use after a fall.


Harsh Environments

Fall Protection Systems can be installed in many environments, ranging from business areas in cities to industrial environments. Although all XSPlatforms Fall Protection Systems are made of high-quality and long-lasting materials, they will be affected in some way by a dirty environment over time.

Lifeline Systems are less robust than Rail Systems and are affected by dirt and other debris. These systems require more frequent maintenance after installation in a industrial environment.

Rail Systems on the other hand are more robust. This does not mean that regular maintenance is not required, but these systems are less affected by dirt and salt. Nevertheless, dirt must always be removed before using the system, otherwise, the runner does not run smoothly over the rails, affecting the efficiency of the system.


Rope Access

In some cases, Rope Access is needed when a roof is steep or when a Façade below the roof must be accessed. For this, you can choose several Anchor Points to be installed: a single Anchor Point with a special RAP-globe, adding RAP Anchor Points to a Lifeline System (like XSLinked) or a Rail System with a Rope Access runner.

Note: Special IRATA training is required for abseiling.

The RAP-globe and RAP enable Rope Access from one location on the roof. This could be sufficient for the given situation, but when a larger area needs to be covered, a Rail System might be the better solution.

Rope Access from the Rail System is possible along the entire length of the rail and with a special abseil-runner with two attachment points (one for the main rope and another to attach a secondary Lifeline). In order to move the location of the suspension point, a Working at Height professional needs to ascent, move the runner horizontally to the right and descent again.


Costs of the Systems

Rail Systems are generally more expensive than Lifeline Systems. This is because of the solid, more durable materials that are used. When choosing one of the two solutions, always assess the situation and determine whether the extra investment is worth it. For example, when a flat roof must be equipped with Fall Protection, a Horizontal Lifeline System is as safe and suitable as a Rail System. So why would you invest more? A good reason might be that the building is within a dirty environment and there is a low fall clearance, making it difficult to use a Horizontal Lifeline System safely.

In a nutshell: neither of the two solutions is better or safer than the other. The situation and demands determine what solution is the best choice.


Lifeline and Rail System Solution Features

We have drafted an overview of the most important features of both Lifeline Systems as well as Rail Systems. Download it here for free and use it to pre-determine whether one of these solutions would suit your project.

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