The ANSI Z133 Safety Requirements for Arboricultural Operations defines a work-positioning lanyard as “a component of a climbing system, used for work positioning, consisting of a flexible line of rope or a strap that may incorporate a knot or mechanical device to allow for adjustability.” This is drastically different than the description I was given by my first supervisor about 100 years ago – who referred to it as a “scare strap.”
I’m sure you’ve all heard them referred to as pole straps, chicken straps or gut straps. The implication was that the only time a climber needed to use a lanyard was when they were in a position where they were too terrified to utilize only rope. In reality, a work-positioning lanyard has many functions.
One of the keys to navigating the canopy successfully is to be able to work with both hands. Sounds simple, but in many situations, hanging on with one hand while cutting with the other can lead to a higher exposure to hazard, property damage from not controlling a limb while using a handsaw or blatant safety violations by utilizing a chain saw with one hand. ANSI Z133, section 6.3.6, states, “Arborists shall be tied in and use a second means of being secured [e.g., lanyard (work-positioning lanyard) or second climbing line] when operating a chain saw in a tree. Using two work-positioning lanyards or both ends of a two-in-one work-positioning lanyard shall not be considered acceptable as two means of being secured when using a chain saw in a tree.”
The antiquated method of climbing with two lanyards is no longer acceptable regardless of the configuration; ensure that you have a means of descent if something goes wrong with a climbing system.
In this article, we will explore lanyard-setup options and some techniques that can assist in safe work positioning.
The components of a work-positioning lanyard system have expanded in recent years with the introduction of mechanical devices. Years ago, the only option was a becket hitch through a D ring that was clipped or tied to the other D ring. (Photo 2) Buckstraps were introduced and, although they are adjustable, the disadvantage is that the adjustment knot may be on the other side of a limb and could lead to a problematic position. (Photo 3a)
Adding cams to a lanyard was a great leap forward in adjustability; probably, they are one of the more popular components throughout the industry. However, the disadvantage with most of these lanyards is that pressure must be taken off the cam to adjust them. (Photo 3b) On a wire-core system, this could lead to a serious issue in a rescue situation where a lanyard cannot be loosened to descend. A Prusik is a better choice in that system – it can be loosened and potentially used for a 2-in-1 setup.
For attachment points, ANSI Z133 8.2.7 states, “Snap hooks (rope snaps) used as part of a climber’s work-positioning
(suspension) system shall be self-closing and self-locking, with a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 pounds (22.24 kN),” and 8.2.8 states, “Carabiners used as part of a climber’s work-positioning (suspension) system shall be self-closing and self-double locking and shall have a gate-locking mechanism that requires at least two consecutive, deliberate actions to unlock.”
Rope snaps are easy to use and sturdy, but have limitations; one less action to open the gate has led to some unintentional loss of secure positioning. Some rope snaps are too large to clip to pulleys or other attachment points other than a D ring. If using a carabiner as a means of attachment, correct orientation must be maintained. Cinching knots are obviously the simplest solution, but a few rubber grommets are an inexpensive and effective solution if using eye splices. (Photo 4) Various types of screw links are another option for semi-permanent attachment, as long as they “have a tensile strength of 5,000 pounds (22.24 kN) and shall be securely tightened to ensure they will not unintentionally open during use” (ANSI Z133 8.2.10). Although they are an acceptable means of attachment, screw links can be prohibitive in utilizing the lanyard for anything other than D ring to D ring.
A colleague once told me that with enough cordage, carabiners and pulleys, you can do almost anything. This is true for the construction of a lanyard. Many modern lanyards are constructed with that exact recipe. An advantage to a friction-hitch-style lanyard is the ease with which one can replace parts (but be sure to stay within manufacturer standards). Mechanical devices now give the ability to descend or move without having to take pressure off, as was needed with the previously mentioned camming system. Adding floating anchors, most commonly a thimble Prusik, can add another element of versatility. (Photo 5)
A common misconception is that lanyard usage is D ring to D ring, and is only for when repositioning a climbing line. When doing so, climbers must observe ANSI Z133 8.1.6, which states, “When repositioning, the arborist shall preload the new tie-in point with his/her full weight before releasing the current means of being secured.” Falls from a canopy are one of the leading cases of fatalities and severe injuries throughout the industry, and many could be prevented by simply load testing a system before unclipping the previous system.
Another cause of falls is a lanyard line running through the adjuster, whether that be a mechanical device or friction hitch. ANSI Z133 8.2.17 states, “The non-working end of any work-positioning lanyard shall have a fixed termination such as a fixed stopper knot, eye splice, snap, carabiner, or other hardware that does not permit the non-working end of the lanyard to advance through the friction device, or it shall be securely connected to a rated connection point on the climbing saddle.” Even a simple figure-8 knot can prevent a catastrophic incident; this goes for climbing lines as well.
To truly understand the functions of a work-positioning lanyard, one must explore the potential of the components and the harness. Knowing which points on the harness function for suspension or can be used for a single attachment is critical for compatibility. (Photos 6a and 6b)
Stability in the tree is critical for safety and efficiency. (Photos 7-15) While rope angle and limb contact are important, using a work-positioning lanyard can increase comfort and reduce exposure to hazard and swing potential.
Mike Tilford, CTSP, is director of general tree care for SavATree, a 35-year TCIA member company headquartered in Bedford Hills, New York. He is an ISA Certified Arborist, a Municipal Specialist, a Certified Tree Worker – Climber Specialist and an ITCC head judge and gear inspector.