Of all the equipment currently available to tree climbers, the personal lanyard is one of the most versatile, easy to customize and adaptable components of a work positioning system. However, the lanyard is often overlooked or considered merely a backup or temporary means of attachment while the climbing line is repositioned. While this is certainly true, with a bit of creative thinking a lanyard can also serve as a second means of attachment and a source of additional climber stability, positioning and movement. A well-thought-out lanyard can add versatility, adaptability and safety to a climber’s daily job.
Additionally, ANSI standards require a second point of attachment during certain work applications. Recent research shows that while falling is not the leading cause of fatalities in arboriculture, of those climbers that did fall, about 20 percent of those falls were due to a severed climbing line and/or lanyard (Ball and Vosberg, 2005). This illustrates the need for a versatile, comprehensive and efficient personal lanyard system that can serve as a second point of attachment.
Components and interface
For the purposes of this article, there are three basic components to a lanyard system. First is the lanyard itself, the actual material used to fashion the cordage or strapping material. Second is the adjuster, which is the knot or device used to alter the length of the lanyard, and third are the terminations and connecting links, the hardware used to attach the lanyard system to the climbing harness.
These components need to interface or work together safely and efficiently. Interface refers to the way the components combine and/or hook together to form a system.
Furthermore, all components need to meet or exceed ANSI Z133 standards for life support. ANSI standards require all rope or cordage to meet or exceed at least 5,400 pounds or 23 kN maximum breaking strength (MBS). All hardware should meet or exceed 5,000 pounds MBS, and all connecting snaps must be double auto-locking. Carabiners must be double auto-locking as well, meaning that two distinct motions must be made before the gate will open.
Once all the chosen components meet these requirements and smooth, safe interfaces are selected, the arborist is free to experiment and develop a system that suits their needs, preferences and job requirements.
A brief history
The simplest form of lanyard is the fixed length type. Designed for climbing poles, it is commonly made of leather with a buckle for length adjustment. Simple in form, it is limited in function due to the difficulty of length adjustment.
Next comes the venerable adjustable Prusik lanyard. Often fashioned from three-strand climbing line, it incorporates two climbing snaps: one is fixed on an end, and the other floats on a loop formed from tying a Prusik with the opposite end back on the standing part of the rope. Once again, simple in function and form, it offers easier length adjustment than the fixed length lanyard. However, its limitations include restricted small diameter adjustment and the tendency of the adjustment knot to change position relative to the climber as the lanyard’s length is adjusted. It also takes two hands to alter the length in most cases.
The next generation of lanyards incorporates mechanical adjusters to alter length. There are two basic types of mechanical adjusters: external cam and internal cam. External cam adjusters, the Gibbs for example, attach the harness directly to the device via a connecting link on the cam itself. There are a number of benefits to this system. It allows for easy, one-handed adjustment to shorten the lanyard. Also, the adjusting device stays close to the climber and cordage of any length can be used. However, if the climber wishes to extend the length of the lanyard, their body weight must be removed entirely from the system before an adjustment can be made.
Internal cam lanyards use an interior cam device. Examples are the Petzl Grillion and ART Positioner. These also provide easily reached adjustment near the user’s hip and have no limit on lanyard length. Although only one end of these lanyards may be used for attachment, the internal nature of their cam means the climber is actually attached more to the frame of the device. This distinction allows them to be adjusted both in and out while still under load, thus climbers do not need to remove their weight for adjustment.
Another type of lanyard system that bears mentioning is the two-in-one lanyard. This cordage lanyard consists of a length of spliced or knotted line with connecting links at either end. A shorter length of cordage, forming a Prusik with a connecting link, provides adjustability at the user’s hip. Adjustability is easily accessible, and, once again, the length of the lanyard is determined by the climber’s needs and work practices. As the Prusik is essentially a climbing hitch in this system, it can be adjusted while still under load to lengthen the lanyard. The addition of a small pulley beneath the Prusik also allows easy, one-handed adjustment in shortening the lanyard. Since the Prusik works in both directions, this lanyard also gives the climber the advantage of using both ends, or having two lanyards in one. The small pulley for ease of one-handed adjustment should be removed prior to using the second end of the lanyard for attachment. The interaction of different types of rope can have a significant effect on the ease of use of this lanyard, so care must be taken to choose fibers that work well together.
Finally, there are wire core lanyards. These are lengths of cordage that have wire in the center. Their rigidity makes them easier to move up the trunk, but also precludes their use near energized conductors. While the wire core may provide some resistance to cutting, they are not cut-proof. The wire core is primarily a stiffener to make the lanyard easier to move up a pole or spar.
Depending on user preference, cordage or external cam adjusters may be used with the wire core lanyard. It should also be noted that these types of lanyards, because of their construction, tend to be heavy for their length.
Split-tail climbing systems
These types of climbing systems often mirror some very effective and safe hybrid lanyard systems. The climbing line can be used as a secondary work-positioning lanyard when a split bridge climbing system is employed with a harness that has multiple attachment points separate from the side D-rings. This allows a climber to essentially flip-flop two separate lanyard systems up a tree. If used in conjunction with a two-in-one lanyard, this gives the climber the option of up to three secure tie-in points.
We have looked at the advantages of lanyard use while climbing, as well as the requirements for it in the ANSI Z133 standards. We moved on to a basic description of lanyard components and how they interface. We then took a brief evolutionary tour of the most common lanyards in use today.
Tony Tresselt, a writer, ISA certified arborist, TCIA certified tree care safety professional and instructor for North American Training Solutions, works for Arborist Enterprises in Lancaster, Pa.