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Fall Protection Systems

In this complete guide to Fall Protection Systems, we will explain different types of fall protection and the key components in each system, making sure that you understand which system you need. We will cover these main topics in the post:

  • Chapter1: 2 Main Types of Fall Protection : Active vs Passive
  • Chapter2: Types of (Active) Fall Protection : Fall Arrest, Fall Restraint, Positioning etc
  • Chapter3: ABC's of Fall Protection : (A)Anchorage; (B)Body Harnesses & (C)Connectors
  • Chapter4: Fall Protection Equipment Inspection
  • Chapter5: Fall Protection Comparison

  • Chapter 1:
    Active vs Passive Fall Protection

    All fall protection can be broken down into two main categories - Active and Passive. They both can solve the need of fall protection and keep the workers safe. So, active vs passive fall protection, what is the difference?  

    A passive fall protection system refers to a system that is non-dynamic, stationary, and does not move or adapt or change when in or out of use. It does not require the use of Personal Protective Equipment or active participation from the worker. It is the preferred fall protection method. Typical passive solutions include Guardrails or Netting Systems.

    An active fall protection system is the next solution when a passive solution is not practical. It is dynamic and requires the use of special equipment and participation by the worker. All of these systems share the common feature of securing the worker wearing a full body harness to an anchorage point with some type of connecting system, depending on the application.

    The next chapter will explain different types of active fall protection. 

    Chapter 2:
    Types of (Active) Fall Protection


    Fall Arrest


    Fall Restraint



    Lightweight & Breathable




    FALL ARREST: A full-body harness is used to arrest a user in a fall from a working surface, in conjunction with an anchorage and a shock-absorbing lanyard, before hitting the ground. This body device secures a user in a manner to distribute the fall arrest forces over the body parts. For a 100kg user, the max. arrest force is 6 kN according to European standardization [max. 8 kN according to American one].

    FALL RESTRAINT: Workers are restrained from reaching a fall hazard. A harness is connected with a fall restraint lanyard, preventing the worker from reaching the leading edge. Compared to Fall Arrest, this is a preferred fall protection solution.

    POSITIONING: A positioning lanyard connects the side D-rings of a harness to an anchor to secure a user in place while performing delicate tasks with two hands. It is commonly used in tying rebar, installing a cellular antenna high on a steel pole. A back-up fall arrest system is required

    RETRIEVAL: It is one of the most frequent operations found in confined space work where a worker is lowered or raised through a manhole or other vertically-accessible opening.  A retrieval line is attached to your harness by a D-ring(s)

    SUSPENSION/CONTROLLED DESCENT: Suspension equipment systems are able to lower and support  workers for working comfortably in suspension. This system is widely utilized by window washers and painters. A fall arrest system must be used alongside the suspension system.

    Chapter 3:
    ABC's of Fall Protection

    Although each active fall protection category is different, they all share the common concept - ABC's of fall protection - which consist of (A) anchorage, (B)body wear, (C) connectors and sometimes (D) Descent & Rescue.


    ANCHORS are a secure point of attachment. Anchorage connectors vary by industry, job, type of installation and structure. The anchor can take the form of either a structural anchor (such as an I-beam or concrete form) or an anchorage connector specifically engineered for fall protection. The anchor is what the worker attaches to and it what provides the foundation strength for the fall arrest system. They must be able to support the intended loads and provide a sufficient factor of safety for fall arrest.

    Body Harnesses

    BODY HARNESSES are designed to limit injuries, or worse, death in a fall. D-ring on a safety harness is the attachment point to a connecting device (C) like a lanyard to an anchor (A), used to equally distribute the forces of the fall throughout the whole body when deployed properly. There are many varieties of harnesses available for different jobs: 

    • 1-point harness: It is a basic and affordable fall arrest harness with one D-ring at the back for connecting a safety lanyard in a fall arrest system.
    • 2-point harness: Widely used across industries, this harness has one D-ring at the back and one on the front. 
      ✔ Both points are permitted for fall arrest but the dorsal D-ring should always be the primary anchorage for connectors. 
      ✔ In fixed ladder climbing applications, the sternal/front D-ring, however, is usually used for fall arrest to prevent an user from falling.
    • 3-point harness: It features one dorsal D-ring and two work-positioning D-rings on the sides of the lower waist area, Ideal for working at heights with both hands free. 
      ✔ When a positioning lanyard connects the side D-rings of your harness to an anchor like a rebar tower, your body can be supported securely in place for work.
      ✔ This type of harness is also commonly used for installing a cellular antenna high on a steel pole without anchor points above.
      Very Important: A back-up fall arrest system is always required in a work-positioning activity
    • 4/5-point harness: This type of advanced harness usually consists of one dorsal D-ring, one sternal D-ring, two side D-rings and sometimes one abdomen D-ring for rescue.
      ✔ Fall arrest, fall restraint, positioning, suspension, rescue etc


    CONNECTORS such as shock absorbing lanyards or self-retracting lifelines connect a worker's body harness (B) to an anchorage (A) in a fall protection system.

    • Fall restraint lanyard: In a fall restraint system, a fall restraint lanyard is used to ensure a worker cannot reach a fall hazard. One end of the it connects to the anchor, while the other connects to the full-body harness via a D-ring.
    • Fall arrest lanyard: A connector used in Fall Arrest must incorporate shock absorbing functionality such as an shock absorbing lanyard and self-retracting lifeline (SRL) to assist in minimizing the forces the user is subjected to.
      TIPS: A twin tail fall arrest lanyard has 2 tails and 1 energy absorber,  allowing users to keep one leg attached to an anchor while they can disconnect the other leg to another anchor. This means that the user is constantly attached to the structure, reducing the risk of falling.
    • Work positioning lanyard: By attaching a work positioning lanyard to the side D-rings of your harness, it supports your body securely in place while allowing you to perform delicate tasks with both hands at elevated heights, very useful for performing the pillars, trees, lattice constructions etc

    Descent & Rescue

    DESCENT & RESCUE plans are required before anyone starts working. From rope access to confined space, there is specific gear needed to get to a fallen worker and get them to safety. A haul system helps raise them up, and a descent device will lower them down. Or maybe you could add trauma straps to your harness, so if you’re the one dangling you can relieve some of the pressure that gravity is placing on your parts.

    Chapter 4:
    Fall Protection Equipment Inspection

    How Often Do Safety Harnesses and Lanyards Need To Be Inspected?

    Detailed Inspections: BS 8437: 2005 and INDG367 recommend intervals not exceeding 6 months, or 3 months where the equipment is used in arduous conditions e.g. demolition, steel erection, scaffolding, steel masts or towers with sharp edges.

    Interim Inspections: They are additional to detailed inspections. Interim inspections will be required where the employer's risk assessment has identified a risk that could result in significant deterioration, affecting the integrity of the equipment before the next detailed inspection is due.

    Pre-Use Checks: Very importantly, they should also be carried out each time, before the harness or lanyard is used. A visual check should be undertaken in good light and will normally take a few minutes. 

    Who Can Do The Inspection?

    It is essential that the person carrying out any inspection is competent to do so. In the case of pre-use checks, this is likely to be the user.

    However, detailed and interim inspections should be carried out by somebody sufficiently independent and impartial to allow them to make objective decisions, and have appropriate and genuine authority to take the appropriate action. This does not mean that competent persons must necessarily be employed from an external company.

    How To Do Your Pre-Use Checks?

    Webbing: Check for signs of damage such as strained or badly pulled webbing, cracks, cuts or fraying as well as loose stitching or fading. These signs may indicate the fibre structure has been compromised.

    Hardware(e.g. Buckles, D-Rings): Make sure all rivets are tight and buckles aren’t bent, distorted or chipped.

    Straps and rope: Carefully check straps for signs of fraying or broken fibres. Inspect clips on straps and check for loose stitching.

    Label: Make sure the label includes the serial number, manufacturing and inspection dates.

    Chapter 5:
    Fall Protection Comparison

    There are many circumstances where you are forced to use fall arrest (i.e. exposure to fall hazards) Falls are a hazard found in many work settings. When you find yourself dealing with fall risks that cannot be eliminated by a fall prevention system, and can be also known as a PFAS- personal fall arrest system.If you can’t avoid working at height or if collective solutions (such as barriers or guardrails) are unsuitable, then a personal Fall Protection System is your best bet.

    Passive Active Active 
    Examples Barricades, Netting... Fall Arrest Fall Restraint
    How it Works? Prevents users from reaching fall hazard by creating barrier  Prevents users from reaching fall hazard via tie-off system Stops fall that is in progress through tie off system.
    PPE needed? No Yes Yes
    Nature of System Static & Fixed Movable Movable
    Human Interaction with System No Yes
    (Active participation of worker)
    (Active participation of worker)
    Training needed? None to Little Extensive & ongoing Extensive & ongoing
    Potential for Injury None to Little Mild High
    OSHA Preference Preferred due to very low risk Better than fall arrest -