Construction Safety Week: Spotlight on Fall Protection

by | May 7, 2024

Falls are repeatedly among the leading causes of injuries and fatalities in the workplace. To help reduce the number of fall-related incidents, using fall protection when working at elevated heights has become a federal requirement for employees. A person without protection will free-fall eight feet in a half second and 32 feet in one second!

The OSHA standard (29 CFR 1926.501(b)(1)) states: “Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems or personal fall arrest systems.” General industry is subject to the similar, 1910.28(b)(1), “…the employer must ensure that each employee on a walking-working surface with an unprotected side or edge that is 4 feet (1.2 m) or more above a lower level is protected from falling by one or more of the following:”

What exactly does this mean and how can you determine what type of fall protection is best?


There Are Three Ways to Protect Employees: Fall Prevention, Fall Restraint, and Fall Arrest

Fall prevention is the preferred way to address fall hazards because it prevents falls. Fall prevention includes guardrails or parapet walls, or other means to prevent someone from falling. Guardrails on scaffolds, aerial lifts, and surrounding the perimeter of buildings are used to protect individuals from hazardous falls and must be able to withstand a 200-pound force in an outward or downward direction. They must have a 4” toe board to prevent someone from sliding under the rails.

A personal fall restraint system consists of a fall protection harness, an anchor point, and an adjustable lanyard or horizontal lifeline that allows the user to approach the edge without falling off. Fall restraint anchors must be able to resist two times the anticipated load or 1000 pounds, whichever is greater.

Fall arrest systems are designed to stop a fall after the person falls from a height but before they hit the lower level or ground. A personal fall arrest system includes a full body harness, a shock-absorbing lanyard or a rope grab, and an anchor point. Fall arrest systems must be attached to a sound anchorage and be able to support a load of 5,000 pounds. It is important to set the anchor as close to directly above the individual as possible to avoid swing fall hazards.


The ABCDs of Fall Protection

There are four components of a fall arrest system that are used to provide maximum safety. These are referred to as the ABCDs of fall protection.

Anchorage: Anchors provide a secure connection point and are designed to prevent a person from coming close to the edge of a platform or from hitting the ground.

Body support: Also called a harness. This is where the lanyard or anchorage cable attaches to the person. Harnesses are designed to distribute the forces that result from a fall to limit injuries or death.

Connectors: These connect the parts of the fall arrest system. They are often a type of lanyard, energy absorber, or lifeline.

Descent and rescue: Implementation of a rescue plan is a critical component of your fall protection program. Make sure you have the proper rescue equipment before implementing the fall arrest system. Keep in mind that you may need to customize your program based on site or work conditions. For example, in confined spaces, you may need a haul system and/or descent device.

Just as there are many different work sites, there are many types of fall protection equipment and manufacturers. It’s a good idea to do some research to ensure that your equipment will meet your specific needs while also complying with the OSHA standards for the work being done.


Inspecting Equipment

According to OSHA regulations, personal fall protection systems must be inspected before initial use, before each use, and annually by a competent person other than the user. Defective components must be removed from service. Equipment should be inspected for evidence of falls, mildew, wear, damage, or other deterioration. Additionally, a competent person or qualified person must inspect each knot in a lanyard or vertical lifeline to ensure that it meets OSHA requirements before any employee uses it.

A personal fall protection system or its components that have been subjected to impact loading must be removed from service immediately and not used again until a competent person, other than the user, inspects the system or components and determines that they are not damaged and safe for use.

According to ANSI/ASSE Z359.2-2007 Section 5.5.2, fall protection and fall rescue equipment shall be inspected on a regular basis not to exceed one year (or more frequently if required by the manufacturer’s instructions) by a competent person.

OSHA defines a competent person as: one who by way of knowledge, training, and/or experience is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in any personal fall protection system or any component of it, as well as in their application and uses with related equipment, and who has authorization to take prompt, corrective action to eliminate the identified hazards.



OSHA 1910.30, 1910.132, 1926.503 and 1926.761 state that before an employee uses a fall protection system, the employer must ensure that they are trained in its proper use.

At a minimum, the training must include:

  • The nature of the fall hazards in the work area and how to recognize them
  • The procedures to be followed to minimize those hazards
  • The correct procedures for installing, inspecting, operating, maintaining, and disassembling the personal fall protection systems that the employee uses
  • The correct use of personal fall protection systems and equipment, including but not limited to proper hook-up, anchoring, tie-off techniques, and methods of equipment inspection and storage, as specified by the manufacturer

Fall protection can be a lifeline in the case of an accident, but the best defense against falls is a well-trained staff. Walden can help. Whether you need General Industry (1910) or Construction (1926) training, we have staff that can provide both. For more information on our EHS consulting services, visit our website or call us at 516-789-2972.

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To speak with a qualified EHS specialist about your fall protection needs, contact Walden at 516-789-2972.