Cable vs. Rope Lifelines – Pros & Cons

Cable lifelines are typically made of stainless steel wire rope, and they’re strong, durable, and easy to inspect. Rope lifelines, on the other hand, are usually made of synthetic fiber rope, and they’re lighter and more flexible. So which one is better? It depends on your needs. Here are some pros and cons of each type of lifeline.

What are lifelines?

Lifelines are an important part of any fall arrest system. They provide a means of safely attaching yourself to an anchorage point, and they allow you to move around without having to constantly adjust your harness.

What are the different types of lifelines?

There are three different types of lifelines:

  • Cable lifelines are made of stainless steel wire rope and are strong, durable, and heat resistant. They are typically used in construction and industrial applications.
  • Rope lifelines are made of nylon or polypropylene rope and are lighter-weight and more flexible than cable lifelines. They are typically used in recreational applications.
  • Webbing (strap) lifelines are made of woven webbing material and are lightweight and flexible. They are typically used in rescue operations.

What are the pros and cons of cable vs. rope lifelines?

Cable lifelines and rope lifelines each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Cable Lifelines – Cable lifelines are made from a strong, flexible steel wire that is coated with plastic or vinyl. They are typically used in construction and industrial applications, as they are able to withstand heavy loads and harsh conditions. Cable lifelines are also relatively easy to install and remove, which makes them a good choice for temporary fall arrest systems.

One disadvantage of cable lifelines is that they can become frayed or damaged over time, which can reduce their strength and effectiveness. Another downside is that they can be more difficult to inspect than rope lifelines, as it can be hard to spot small flaws in the wire coating.

Rope Lifelines – Rope lifelines are made from strong synthetic fibers, such as nylon or polyester. They are typically used in recreational applications, such as rock climbing or rappelling, as they offer more flexibility than cable lifelines. Rope lifelines are also easier to inspect than cable lifelines, as any damage is more likely to be visible on the surface of the rope.

One disadvantage of rope lifelines is that they can stretch under load, which can absorb some of the energy from a fall and reduce the level of protection that they provide. Another downside is that they require more frequent inspection and replacement than cable lifelines, as the synthetic fibers can degrade over time.

Here is a summary of the points:

Cable Lifelines


  • Cables are less likely to be damaged by abrasion than ropes.
  • Cables have a lower elongation rate than ropes, meaning they will provide more fall protection.
  • Cables are less likely to be tangled than rope lifelines.


  • Cables are more expensive than ropes.
  • Cables can be damaged by UV rays, so they may need to be replaced more often if used outdoors.

Rope Lifelines


  • Ropes are less expensive than cables.
  • Ropes can be easily replaced if damaged.
  • Ropes are lighter than cables, making them easier to transport and install.


  • Ropes can be damaged by abrasion more easily than cables.
  • Ropes have a higher elongation rate than cables, meaning they will provide less fall protection.

How do you choose the right lifeline for your needs?

When it comes to choosing the right fall protection for your job site, two of the most popular options are cable lifelines and rope lifelines. But how do you know which one is right for you?

Things to consider for the lifeline you may choose:

  • Strength
  • Cost
  • Length
  • Indoor vs. outdoor applications
  • Height
  • Inspection and maintenance
  • Weight / Transport
  • Exposure to chemicals

Rope and cable lifelines will differ in their capacities to meet these points.

What are the installation considerations for cable vs. rope lifelines?

When choosing between a cable or rope lifeline, there are a few key installation considerations:

  • Cable lifelines can be installed in nearly any orientation, while rope lifelines must be installed vertically.
  • Cable lifelines are less likely to cause damage to the surrounding structure than rope lifelines.
  • Cable lifelines are not as likely to sag over time as rope lifelines.

What are the inspection and maintenance requirements for cable vs. rope lifelines?

Cable lifelines are subject to periodic inspections and should be replaced every 5 years. Rope lifelines do not require periodic inspections but should be retired and replaced after 10 years of use.

What are the common hazards associated with lifelines?

There are several hazards that are common with both types of lifelines. First, if the lifeline is not properly installed, it can fray or break, causing serious injury or death. Second, if the lifeline is not properly maintained, it can become weakened and break under strain. Third, if the user does not have the proper safety equipment, he or she can be seriously injured or killed if the lifeline breaks.

In Closing

There are a variety of lifelines available on the market, each with its own set of pros and cons. Cable lifelines are some of the most popular, thanks to their flexibility and ease of installation. However, rope lifelines can be a better choice in certain situations. Hopefully, this guide will help you decide which type of lifeline is right for your needs.

NEXT UP: How Does a Self-Retracting Lifeline Work?

Did you find this useful? If yes please share!
Rebecca Ross
About Rebecca Ross

Rebecca Ross an Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) consultant who runs her own occupational safety consultancy. She focuses on hazardous materials, warehouse safety, fire safety, lab safety, fall protection, head protection and other workplace safety topics. Learn more about Rebecca here or connect with her on Twitter | LinkedIn | Medium