They can come in a variety of different material combinations, sizes, colors, and even – to some degree – shapes. The definition of carabiner, as it is found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “an oblong metal ring with one spring-hinged side that is used especially in mountain climbing as a connector and to hold a freely running rope.” Alternatively, the Oxford dictionary defines it as “a coupling link with a safety closure, used by rock climbers.”
The word “carabiner” comes from the German “karabinerhaken,” which translates to English as “hook for a carbine.” In layman terms, a carabiner is a metal loop with a sprung or screwed gate that is used to quickly and reversibly connect components in a fall protection system. There are various types of carabiners used in the fall protection industry and they are typically defined by their shape. The most common types include the Offset-D, Oval, and Pear. Standard gate (non-locking) carabiners allow the user to push open the spring-loaded gate and place a line, strap, or other connection point within the loop. Once inside, the gate closes and cannot be opened by pressure from the opposing direction. Screw and twist-lock (locking) carabiners have an additional sleeve to secure the gate. Twist lock types may lock automatically, while screw types are threaded and must be locked manually.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) classifies carabiners as connectors and their role in fall protection is to ensure that the user remains connected to the system at all times. Carabiners provide a critical link between anchorage points and lanyards or lanyards and harnesses. Because carabiners endure a great deal of stress, they must be routinely inspected for signs of wear, fatigue, or damage. Their inspection requires special attention to ensure that the integrity of the locking mechanism has not been compromised.