Working in Fall Restraints

When working at heights, keeping your workers safe from a fall is the number one goal. There are several different ways to achieve this, but one of the most effective and preferred ways is to work in fall restraint.

When you’re working in restraint, you are limiting your movement or guarding the hazard so that a fall should not occur. There are a couple of different types of fall restraint. It seems that the most favorable type of fall restraint is passive.

When working in passive fall restraint it is not necessary for the worker to utilize a personal fall arrest system (PFAS). Passive fall restraint focuses on guarding edges and other fall hazards with a designed or manufactured solution that would prevent a worker from exposing themselves to a fall hazard.

Guardrails are a good example of a passive fall restraint solution. There are numerous guardrail solutions available either manufactured or built on site, but every guardrail solution must follow the Occupational Safety Health Administration’s (OSHA) regulations and must be documented to withstand certain forces in certain directions. They typically have a top rail and middle rail and sometimes a toe board. It just depends on the work and the environment.

OSHA regulation 1910.29 (b)(3) states that “Guardrail systems are capable of withstanding, without failure, a force of at least 200 pounds applied in a downward or outward direction within 2 inches of the top edge, at any point along the top rail.”

There are a wide variety of options of guardrails that include mobile, permanent, some that fold down and some that are aesthetically pleasing. Passive fall protection is a wide market with a lot of good products.

Active fall restraint involves the worker wearing a full body harness and complete personal fall arrest system. For example, if you are 4 feet from the edge you’ll have a 2-3 ft. lanyard so you can’t reach the edge. That is what you would use with active fall restraint. You can anchor yourself to several different things such as a single anchor point or an engineered fall protection system.

We like to use the example of a dog on a leash. So, for example, your roof is your yard and your neighbor’s yard is your fall hazard. What you want to do is make sure the leash that you have on your dog doesn’t allow them to reach your neighbor’s yard. You can put them on a lead that allows them to go back and forth just as long as they can’t get to the fall hazard.

The last case is fall arrest, which means you can fall. You’re working on a roof or somewhere where you can get to the edge and if you were able to make it to the edge you can fall.

The main benefit of working in fall restraint over fall arrest is that the worker doesn’t fall. When working with the hierarchy of fall protection it’s important to eliminate as many steps as possible. If eliminating the hazard is not an option, then working in fall restraint is the next safest practice. If you are able to offer edge protection with some sort of barrier or guardrail, that is considered passive fall restraint. The need for a full body harness with a positioning device is not needed.

Hierarchy of fall protection

  1. Eliminating the hazard
    • Elimination is always the best solution for any hazardous situation. If you notice a potential hazard, complete and total removal of it is the best course of action for all. If you’re lucky, it may only take a change in procedure to eliminate the worker’s exposure to a fall.
  2. Controlling the perimeter (hole covers and guardrails)
    • When working at heights cannot be eliminated, the next best fall protection option is using guardrails and hole covers to eliminate fall risk exposure.
  3. Restraining the fall
    • Restraining the fall occurs when you modify the environment to mitigate as much as possible known fall hazards.
  4. Arresting the fall
    • Fall arrest is used when the worker is exposed to the fall hazard. When it comes to fall arrest, training is critical. The competent person has an overwhelming list of responsibilities on the jobsite, including observing and training the workers who are the authorized persons on the job.
  5. Administratively controlling fall protection awareness
    • These are work practices or procedures that increase a worker’s awareness of a fall hazard. These measures include utilizing warning lines, safety monitors, warning horns, and controlled access zones. Although this method is generally acceptable, it is the last resort because risk to failure is greater. These options are also heavily regulated by OSHA.

For the complete hierarchy of fall protection, please visit Malta Dynamics’ website.

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