Difference Between Fall Protection for Recreational and Industrial Use

Today, fall protection encompasses many different applications across various industries. Many people think of industrial applications when they hear the term “fall protection,” but other forms of fall protection exist. There are many recreational activities that require fall protection: rock climbing, high-lining, and even hunting, to name just a few. Although there are clear differences between industrial and recreational fall protection, understanding which equipment is best used in specific circumstances will help keep people safer while at height.

Hunting is a great example of the importance of recreational fall protection. People should always use fall protection equipment while hunting from treestands. The Treestand Manufacturing Association (TMA) is an organization that devotes its resources to promote treestand safety. They are also a participating member of ASTM (formally the American Society for Testing Materials), which verifies that products meet the standards orchestrated by TMA. For more information, you can read TMA’s Treestand Safety Guidelines here.

People also use recreational fall protection equipment for sports like rock climbing. The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) is considered the authority for rock climbing standards. The UIAA has proven that full-body harnesses increase the risk of neck and spinal injuries during a fall event while rock climbing. Because rock climbers can fall at varying angles, the UIAA regards waist harnesses as the safest form of protection when rock climbing. Rope is the deceleration device (versus a lanyard) because rock climbers need to be able to anchor to different points on the rock face at various distances. For more information on fall protection equipment used in rock climbing, check out a previous Rigid Lifelines’ blog post about Rock Climbing Equipment as Industrial Fall Protection.

On the other hand, people do use industrial fall protection for different jobs across multiple industries, such as window cleaning, painting, construction, and manufacturing. The main difference between industrial and recreational fall protection equipment is that users of industrial fall protection must follow OSHA regulations, whereas recreational fall protection users are not required, but encouraged to follow the standards outlined by their relevant authoritative organizations.  Similarly, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is not law, but they are the voice of U.S. standards, which helps to assure the safety and health of consumers and employees across all industries. In fact, the ANSI Z359 committee is considering removing the “does not address sports-related . . . activities” statement, which would officially make the ANSI Z359 standard applicable to industrial and recreational fall protection applications.

Like treestand applications, the anchor point for industrial fall protection is normally overhead, which makes a full-body harness and a self-retracting lanyard (SRL) the safest for industrial fall protection use. That’s because SRL’s are designed to eliminate potential trip hazards; the self-retracing feature ensures that the lanyard remains as short as possible when completing a specific task. By using a track system, the anchor point can be kept directly overhead, which virtually eliminates swing fall.

Regardless of the application, remember to follow the standards set by the safety authority for your relevant application. Always use the equipment intended for your specific operation, and if you have any questions, it’s always a good idea to direct them toward the appropriate standard authority (or equivalent organization), your equipment manufacturer, and/or a qualified engineer or safety expert. As always, we’re here to answer to the best of our ability any questions that you might have.


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Nathan Muller

Senior Technical Writer | Rigidlifelines.com
Nathan Muller is the Senior Technical Writer for Spanco and Rigid Lifelines. Nathan has nearly four years of experience in technical communications and copyediting. He graduated from Bob Jones University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Professional Writing. He is also a member of the Society of Technical Communication.