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The Four Types of Fall Protection

Fall protection is a part of safety equipment that is used to make working at heights safer. The phrase generally refers to any kind of mechanism that is intentionally designed to stop or reduce falls from heights. When used specifically, the term refers to all measures and devices used to prevent a fall from occurring.

Fall protection is generally used on construction sites that are at heights. Fall protection is achieved by different methods since there are many different types of fall protection. These types can fit into one of the following four categories:

  1. Fall prevention equipment
  2. Fall restraint systems
  3. Fall arrest systems
  4. Positioning systems

Throughout the rest of this article we will go into detail about each type of fall protection. We will also discuss why fall protection is so important to the safety culture of the workplace.

Why Do Falls Matter?

Before we go further into detail about the different types of fall protection, we must first discuss why fall protection is important.

While falls may seem insignificant, they are the most common causes of injury and fatality in the work industry. Falls are the leading cause of death for employees within the construction industry. In fact, each year around 300-400 construction workers fall to their deaths. Many of these fatalities can easily be prevented just by using appropriate fall protection.

Fall hazards exist in every type of workplace environment. Slips, trips, and falls from height can lead to a permanent physical disability and even death. For the sake of this article we will mainly be focused on falls from height, as they are generally the most severe.

At one point in time or another, every construction worker has either experienced or been around a fall hazard.

OSHA Requirements For Fall Protection

Employers are required to set up the workplace so that no one can fall off of raised workstations, above platforms, or into holes in the floor or walls. OSHA requires fall protection at different elevations for different industries. For example, it is required at 4-feet in general industry, 5-feet in shipyards, 6-feet in the construction industry, and 8-feet in longshoring operations (OSHA).

OSHA also mandates the use of fall protection when operating at heights near hazardous machinery and equipment, regardless of the fall height. Some other requirements that employers must fulfill are:

Employers are not the only ones with responsibilities when it comes to fall protection. Even if your employer provides you with the highest quality fall protection equipment, it won’t work unless you actually use it. Employees are given the responsibility of:

Fall Prevention Equipment

Fall prevention systems are used to prevent employees from approaching the fall hazard. These types of fall protection include guardrails and vertical safety nets. Stair railings are a great example of fall prevention. These systems are the most secure because they work to eliminate the falling hazard altogether. Of the three categories of fall protection, prevention provides the least risk, as the goal is to keep workers as far from hazards as possible.

Restraint Systems

If the fall hazard area cannot be fully secured by a fall prevention system, then fall restraint is used. Fall restraint systems are similar to fall prevention in that they also restrict workers from reaching a fall hazard. The difference is that rather than using physical barriers, fall restraint uses harnesses and connective devices to actively prevent the worker from leaning far enough over an edge to be at risk of a fall.

Fall restraint systems are a second line of defense. Generally, if fall prevention is not sufficient to eliminate the hazard, then fall restraint can keep employees a safe distance from the hazard.

Fall Arrest Systems

Fall arrest systems are designed to stop a user’s momentum if they’ve started to fall. This type of system is the least ideal of the four and serves as the last means of defense when all other systems fail. However, it is still preferable to having an employee hurt or killed.

Individual fall arrest systems are a type of personal protective equipment or PPE. A fall arrest system should only be used if a higher level of control cannot be used in the situation. You can also use it in conjecture with a higher level of control. A fall arrest system includes:

In order to use fall arrest systems safely, employees should be wearing a full-body harness that is comfortable to wear and isn’t too big. Before entering a position where they may fall, they must connect the fall arrest system to an appropriate anchor point. There should be a minimal amount of slack between the individual and the attachment on the fall arrest lifeline.

Positioning System

This category is closely related to both fall restraint and arrest positioning systems. These are harnesses, belts, and other devices that allow the user to lean back and work hands-free on an elevated surface. If a freefall occurs, the positioning system should limit it to no more than 2-feet. Additionally, positioning systems should be used in conjunction with fall arrest, with backup lanyards or lifelines in place.

Active vs Passive Fall Arrest Systems

Fall protection systems can be further divided into two sub-categories: passive and active.

A passive fall protection system is any system that does not require any further involvement from a worker once it has been put in place. A passive system remains installed until the work is completed or the fall hazard has been removed. These would be installed as a second line of defense against falls. Passive protection methods that are commonly used include barricades, guardrails, safety nets, hole covers, and others.

Active fall protection systems, on the other hand, require ongoing interaction from the workers using them. For these systems to work properly, they must be installed, worn, and maintained from location to location. Examples include body harnesses, lanyards, and body belts.

Fall Protection Plan

A fall protection plan is a safety strategy for employees working at heights. The main goal of a protection plan is to give employees a safe working environment by identifying fall hazards at a site and outlining the fall protection methods and equipment that are utilized to help mitigate any potential risks. It’s important to keep in mind that no two plans are the same. They all depend on the specific construction site since each place has different safety risks and fall hazards.

Why Do I Need a Fall Protection Plan?

A plan must be in place whenever there is a fall hazard. The best option for giving workers the highest amount of safety when working in the air is fall protection devices.

Every construction company that deals with elevated work is expected to have a fall protection plan, and government rules demand that they be made available to every worker on site. This is due to the severity of an injury that can result from a fall.

If you are an employer, it is important to be sure your employees understand the plan and know what to do in case of emergency. Ensuring that your employees can access and know the plan will help to reduce this risk and increase the chances a life can be saved in the event a fall does happen.

What Should Be in a Fall Protection Plan?

An effective fall protection plan should include several elements and pay close attention to every detail. Below are the steps you should follow in what to address in your plan:

  1. Identify potential fall hazards
  2. Describe the fall hazards
  3. Identify fall protection systems to be used
  4. Describe procedures for assembly, maintenance, inspection, disassembly for fall protection systems
  5. Describe procedures for handling,storage, securing tools and materials
  6. Identify method of overhead protection for workers
  7. Identify prompt removal of injured worker
  8. Identify method used to determine adequacy of anchorage points
  9. Identify locations of anchorage points
  10. Select system components
  11. Distance from anchor to ground, lower level or obstruction
  12. Calculated minimum fall clearance
  13. Inspection checklist
  14. A list of employees who have been trained to work under the plan
  15. Work plan authority approval

Safety Training Course

Here at Hard Hat Training, we offer a Fall Protection Course that goes into detail about each type of fall protection system as well as how to inspect each part and how to respond to what-if scenarios. You will receive your certification upon completion of the course!