One common question we get from clients regards the basic differences between fall prevention, fall restraint, and fall arrest. We have covered this topic in a variety of posts over the years, but the serious nature of this frequently asked question prompted us to take another stab at this important topic.
In our industry, the phrase fall prevention is commonly used but most clients don’t really understand the nuanced definition of this term. From an industry standpoint, fall prevention is most often used to describe a passive fall protection system like a rooftop guardrail system. Passive fall protection systems don’t require any change in routine for their users. If you have a perimeter rooftop guardrail system in place, you are protected from the moment you step foot on the roof until you exit the work area. Many clients prefer a fall prevention approach because it doesn’t require workers to take any preparatory steps prior to entering the work area. This is the safest approach to rooftop safety, but it can also require the most significant financial investment of the three approaches to fall protection.
Fall restraint is a fall protection strategy that prevents workers from reaching—and tumbling over—an unprotected leading edge. Fall restraint systems can take a variety of forms, including single point anchors and horizontal lifelines, but each system has a common denominator—workers must don 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.
In the fall protection hierarchy, fall arrest systems are a last resort strategy in that they are designed to stop a fall in progress. Obviously, we would like to keep workers from ever approaching an unprotected leading edge, but this strategy is not always feasible. Fall arrest systems often take forms similar to rooftop fall restraint systems such as single point anchors and horizontal lifelines, and workers connect to anchor points with body harnesses and lanyards, but for fall arrest applications, the equipment is engineered to withstand the forces associated with stopping falls. Fall arrest systems must also they must stop a fall before an employee strikes surfaces below the work area.
The next logical question here is which system is best? Most folks immediately grasp that preventing a fall from ever happening is preferable to arresting a fall in progress, but again, we need to match the proper system with the application and available budget. A rooftop guardrail system is pretty foolproof—and 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. 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 that has 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.