What Are Swing Falls and How Do They Occur

Swing falls in the industrial work place can result in significant injuries to workers and damage to equipment. Here I will briefly explain swing falls, how they occur, and how they can be prevented.

Many jobs require workers to perform tasks at height. Whether cleaning or servicing aircraft, installing or adjusting theater lighting, or working in an industrial or construction environment, OSHA regulations require fall protection for working heights of four feet or higher for general industry and 6 feet or higher for construction. If a specific application puts workers at risk of falling to a lower level, a fall arrest system must be installed. Fall arrest systems come in different configurations, but all require an attachment point. Using a full body harness with a lanyard, the worker hooks into the attachment point to secure an anchorage point. The attachment point is where swing falls become an issue. The location of the attachment point and the distance a worker moves from the attachment point becomes the focus. If the attachment point is not directly overhead, but instead is located at the workers waist, ankle, or the worker has strayed more than 30° from an overhead attachment point, swing falls are unavoidable. If the attachment point is directly overhead, no swinging occurs after the freefall.

To illustrate how a swing fall occurs, visualize a game of tetherball. Imagine that the worker is the ball and the attachment point is where the rope is tethered to the top of the pole. When the ball is held up at an angle from the top of the pole and dropped, it swings into an arc, and eventually the path of the swing brings the ball in contact with the pole. Conversely, if the ball is held directly under the tie off point, lifted up and dropped, instead of swinging, the ball will fall and rock back and forth until it comes to a rest next to the pole.


A clear example of how a swing fall might occur in the workplace is in the air transportation industry. Workers frequently access aircraft wings for maintenance or cleaning and, in doing so, require a fall arrest system. If the attachment point for the system is located directly above the fuselage, when the worker accesses the wing, they are already at risk of exceeding the 30° off-plumb allowed by OSHA. As the worker walks further out on the wing, they increase their risk of a significant swing fall. In the event the worker falls, the lanyard will start to pay out and, as the worker’s freefall starts to arrest, they will swing back to the fuselage attachment point. The further the distance the worker travels, the more speed they gather. This speed translates into an impact that can result in injury, costly damage to the aircraft, or even death! When impact hazards are present, the hazards must be removed, or the attachment point must be relocated.

Swing falls can be avoided by ensuring that the worker’s attachment point remains overhead, regardless of the area in which they are working. One solution is a Traveling Bridge system by Rigid Lifelines, in which an overhead bridge and trolley traverses fixed runways. This system moves with the worker, maintaining an overhead attachment point that is always directly overhead. The Traveling Bridge system minimizes fall distance, and eliminates swing fall hazards. Be sure to select the fall protection system that best suits the demands of your work environment. Remember that if swing fall hazards exist in your application, a Competent Person or Qualified Engineer should always be consulted.

Thank you for reading,

Michael Evanko
Marketing Manager

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