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The Differences Between Fall Prevention, Fall Restraint, and Fall Arrest Systems

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Dec 19, 2021 9:00:00 AM

Fall protection clients often wonder, “What is the difference between fall prevention, fall restraint, and fall arrest systems?” After all, these terms all sound similar enough to be interchangeable.

However, each method of fall protection has a different meaning. Learn more about each system below, or contact a fall protection specialist to discuss your options.

 Fall Prevention vs. Fall Restraint vs. Fall Arrest

In a nutshell, these different fall protection systems each try to protect a worker from fall hazards in a different way.

Fall prevention systems aim to passively prevent a fall from happening.

Fall restraint systems actively restrain a user from being able to reach an edge or drop-off.

Fall arrest systems are designed to stop (or “arrest”) a fall that has already begun.

When you understand the difference between these types of fall protection systems, you can choose the best solution for your application.

 

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Fall Prevention Systems

Fall prevention systems are passive, meaning they don’t require any change in routine from their users. Someone can simply go about their usual business and be protected from a fall. Many clients prefer a fall prevention approach because it doesn’t require workers to take any preparatory steps prior to entering the work area.

What is an example of a fall prevention system?

One example of a fall prevention system is rooftop guardrail. If you have a perimeter rooftop guardrail system in place, you and your workers are protected from falls the moment you step foot on the roof, all the way until you exit the work area. The guardrail prevents someone from falling over the edge, but it doesn’t require someone to hook into a system, such as with a self-retracting lifeline (SRL).

Fall prevention is the safest approach to rooftop safety. However, since it can also require the most significant financial investment of the three approaches to fall protection, it’s helpful to learn your other options.

 

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Fall Restraint Systems

Fall restraint is a fall protection strategy that prevents workers from reaching—and tumbling over—an unprotected leading edge. With a travel restraint system, the user is restricted from moving too close to the edge.

Fall restraint systems can take a variety of forms, including single point anchors and horizontal lifelines. However, each system has a common denominator: Workers must wear a body harness and connect a lanyard to an anchor point.

Fixed single point anchors  are used for smaller, clearly defined work areas, while horizontal lifelines are used for larger applications that require maintenance personnel to roam more freely about the rooftop.

What is an example of fall restraint equipment?

A rigid post single-point anchor system is one example of fall restraint equipment. The rigid post anchor is affixed to a beam, allowing a user to attach a lanyard or lifeline to the anchor point on one end and their harness on the other.

Other single point anchor systems, such as portable anchors, vacuum single point anchors, and truss anchor kits, work in a similar fashion, although the method of attachment of the anchor point differs.

What is the purpose of a fall restraint lanyard?

The lanyard used in fall restraint equipment is a key component of the system. The lanyard is engineered to stop the worker from ever reaching the edge, and therefore a fall is prevented. Lanyards for fall restraint are often fixed lengths and must be able to withstand 800 lbs. of force. Note that this requirement is different than what is required for a fall arrest lanyard, described below.

 

Fall Arrest Systems

In the hierarchy of fall protection, fall arrest systems are a last resort strategy. That’s because they are designed to stop a fall already in progress.

Although the primary goal is always to keep workers from ever approaching an unprotected leading edge, this strategy is not always feasible. A fall arrest system is designed for such situations.

What is an example of a fall arrest system?

Fall arrest systems often take forms similar to rooftop fall restraint systems, such as single point anchors and horizontal lifelines.

As with fall restraint systems, workers connect to the system’s anchor points with body harnesses and lanyards. However, for fall arrest applications, the equipment is engineered to withstand the much greater forces associated with stopping falls. Fall arrest systems must stop a fall before an employee strikes surfaces below the work area. As such, a fall arrest lanyard must be able to withstand a dead weight of 5,000 lbs.

Also, fall arrest systems are engineered to account for the forces that accumulate in stopping such a fall using shock absorbers. This prevents the user from sustaining serious bodily harm when the fall is arrested.

 

Which Fall Protection is Right For You?

The next logical question here is: Which system is best? Most people immediately grasp that preventing a fall from ever happening is preferable to arresting a fall in progress but still need to match the proper system with the application and available budget.

A rooftop guardrail system is nearly foolproof, plus you’ll save on annual inspections and re-certifications. But if your perimeter is very large or you have a severely sloped roof, you’ll need to consider alternatives.

Fall restraint systems are preferable to fall arrest systems, but with some applications, workers have no choice but to work close to the leading edge, making a fall arrest system more appropriate.

Finding the right approach for your rooftop application requires a formula that considers budget, frequency of use, and the precise location of the rooftop work areas. The best way to ensure a safe rooftop work environment is to choose a fall protection company like Diversified Fall Protection. We have the design and installation credentials to meet OSHA fall protection requirements while keeping your personnel safe and productive.

To learn more, download our white paper on selecting a fall protection company or contact the safety pros at Diversified Fall Protection for more information.

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