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Fall Protection: Passive Restraint, Fall Restraint, and Fall Arrest Systems

Jan 14, 2011 1:37:33 PM

We often receive calls and e-mails from companies asking us to explain the differences between the various types of Fall Protection Systems.
All fall protection systems fall into one of three categories:  passive restraint, fall restraint, and fall arrest.  This edition of Tech Talk will explain the differences between these approaches to fall protection.

A passive restraint system is perhaps the most basic form of fall protection.  These systems do not allow a fall to occur.  Examples of passive restraint fall protection systems include guardrail systems and warning lines.  Passive restraint fall protection systems create barriers that prevent workers from reaching hazardous areas where falls might occur.

Fall restraint systems allow workers to reach hazardous height areas while eliminating the possibility of a fall via tie-off systems.  Fall restraint systems utilize single point anchors, horizontal lifelines with rope grabs and limiting length lanyards, allowing workers to perform tasks at heights without going over the edge.

Fall arrest systems stop falls in progress.  A tied off worker may fall over a leading edge with these types of systems, but their fall is arrested before contacting the next lower surface.  Fall arrest systems also absorb the force that a body would see during a fall.  Self retracting lifelines and shock absorbing lanyards are examples of fall arrest systems.

Identifying the best fall protection system for your specific application can be difficult because there are multiple factors to take into consideration.  Workers often define “best” in terms of the convenience factor.  Systems that require little in the way of inspection and systems that do not excessively limit range of motion are often considered “best choices” from an employee’s perspective.  Walking and working on a roof that has perimeter guardrail is easier than tying off with harnesses and horizontal lifelines, but the size and pitch or slope of the roof is an important factor here as it may not always be cost effective to install guardrail on large roofs with massive perimeters.

OSHA typically favors passive restraint or fall restraint systems because they severely restrict the amount of exposure to hazardous working conditions.  Both passive restraint and fall restraint systems are preferable to fall arrest systems since they prevent workers from falling in the first place.

Still confused?  Due to the complexities of each situation, the best way to determine which fall protection system is right for your specific application is to contact a certified fall protection engineer.  The fall protection experts at Diversified Fall protection welcome the opportunity to speak with you about your project.