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Leading Edge Work


What is Leading Edge work?

Most contractors, even those not actively working at heights, are familiar with the term, but if you’re not, let’s start with basic definitions.

Leading Edge

Leading Edge work can occur on any jobsite across multiple trades where you are working at heights. Typically the worker is anchored from behind, at foot-level, and is exposed to an unprotected edge where the risk of a fall exists.

Sharp Edge

Sharp Edge work refers to a work environment where the lifeline comes in contact with a sharp or abrasive edge – with the potential to fray or sever most standard lifelines. A Sharp Edge may, or may not, also be a Leading Edge. The term “Sharp Edge” goes beyond obvious metal edges like corrugated sheeting or metal grinders. The definition includes any abrasive material. Think about how rough a precast concrete beam is. When a rope or cable slides across an abrasive edge with the combined weight of a worker and the dynamic force of a fall those cables and ropes can break, offering no protection.

We love these awesome “SRL Do’s and Don’ts” from Guardian.

Testing, Regulation and Certification

In the states, ANSI (American National Standards Institute) leads the charge on comprehensive testing and certifications for SRLs, Anchors and Lifeline systems. They test lifeline performance and durability in Leading Edge as well as Sharp Edge applications. In Canada the testing and regulatory agency is the CSA (Canadian Standards Association).

Considering Clearance

When calculating your fall clearance, remember the numbers will change depending on where you are anchored. When anchored overhead, or at shoulder height the clearance required is less than when anchored at foot-level. Make sure to check your manufacturer’s instructions – and be aware that foot-level clearance spec’s will change from once product to another.

OSHA’s 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart M (fall protection), §1926.501(b)(1) states:

Unprotected sides and edges. Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.

Fall Distance

Leading edge work presents a couple additional risks that require using devices designed for LE. Most Leading Edge workers anchor at foot-level, so if a fall occurs they will fall farther than workers anchored at shoulder-height or overhead. A longer fall translates to more force and impact to the body during fall arrest. LE systems are designed to absorb this increase in force.

Swing Effect

It is also important to invest in a system that can withstand a sharp edge. This need is compounded by the potential of swinging. With leading edge and sharp edge work the lifeline must not only be strong enough to arrest the initial fall, but also weather the potential sawing effect that occurs from swinging against a rough or sharp surface. If a worker has fallen from a side angle they will swing. This swinging action across an abrasive or sharp edge can wear away materials not designed to withstand the abuse.


For more info on Leading Edge and Fall Protection check out these links:
Leading Edge Products
Guardian’s Leading Edge blog

OSHA: Controlled Access Zones and Leading Edge
OSHA: Safe distance from edge of roof


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