Fall Arrest & Fall Restraint

When an end-user needs to work at height, it is important that they implement the fall protection hierarchy. If they discover that they cannot eliminate the fall hazard by either relocating the work to ground level or using passive fall protection (like guardrails), then they will need to choose between fall restraint and fall arrest systems to protect workers at elevation. The task that needs to be performed at height will ultimately determine how the worker will be protected.  

At Rigid Lifelines, we frequently have customers who want to design a fall protection system based on fall restraint rather than fall arrest.  We are quick to ask them the question: “If at any time in completing the assigned job task, could your worker ever get their center of gravity over an unprotected leading edge?”  If the answer is yes, then they must design the entire system with fall arrest in mind.  If the reply is no, then (in theory) they could design the system around fall restraint requirements.

In general, the best practice is that our customers always design for the worst case scenario and incorporate fall arrest.  The reason is very simple. A fall arrest system can be treated like a restraint system by providing the worker with a lifeline that would limit the workers ability to get their center of gravity over an unprotected leading edge. But, in the event they do end-up going over the leading edge, thus subjecting the fall protection system to impact loads, the worker will be protected because the system was designed for the forces of fall arrest.

There are far too many reports of workers who disconnect from a system to move horizontally or vertically due to a lack of sufficient system mobility while attempting to perform their assigned job task.  Unfortunately, a number of these “disconnect to move” occurrences resulted in a fall fatality.  Similarly, if an anchor point is designed for restraint forces only, and a worker was not provided the proper length lifeline to restrict their travel to an unprotected leading edge, a worker could potentially fall on this system. This type of fall event could result in the catastrophic failure of the anchor point and possibly cause a serious injury or death. As a result of this, it is important to properly identify where people will need access while working at height, and the appropriate equipment will need to be implemented.  

Eliminating a workers exposure to a fall hazard is always the first thing to consider in an elevated worksite analysis.  Passive fall protection systems, such as guardrails and hole-covers, require no worker manipulation or training.  Active fall protection systems, such as fall restraint and fall arrest, do require a high degree of worker training and manipulation. Thus, by designing anchor points and system components for fall arrest forces, at least the equipment will not be a concern for the worker should they accidentally put themselves in a situation where they could fall over an unprotected leading edge.  With our years of experience in fall protection, it is clear that engineering for fall arrest (rather than fall restraint) is a smart investment for protecting workers.


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Hannah Addison

Marketing Copywriter | Rigidlifelines.com
Hannah was formerly a Marketing Copywriter for Rigid Lifelines, a division of Spanco. She graduated from Kutztown University with a B.A. in Professional Writing.