What is Passive Fall Protection?

There are different methods of protecting a worker at heights. You can be in “passive fall restraint”, “active fall restraint”, or you can work in “fall arrest” as well as a couple of other modes of work at height.

Fall Restraint

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.

There are a couple of different types of fall restraint; passive and active.

Passive Fall Restraint

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

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.

Fall Arrest

When restraint is not an option, you move to working in fall arrest. When in fall arrest, you can experience a fall and the PFAS is designed to arrest a fall and keep the worker as safe as possible. Working in fall arrest is the fourth option in the “Hierarchy of Fall Protection”. Working in fall arrest is only preferred over administrative control.

Another term for administrative control is a controlled access zone. In these situations, there are personnel watching the hazard area and warning workers or visual barriers to keep workers out of the controlled access zone. With administrative control, generally a PFAS is not utilized.

Hierarchy of Fall Protection

See below for the Hierarchy of Fall Protection and progress through each option until you would find the safest option for your hazard.

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. 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

Worker utilizes a PFAS and a connecting device to allow movement in the work area but restrict the worker from moving into a fall hazard area. Eliminating the possibility of a fall if done correctly.

4. Arresting the fall

Fall arrest is used when the worker is exposed to fall hazards. A PFAS is utilized to arrest a fall if one occurs. The key component to arresting a fall is the deceleration device, either a lanyard or self-retracting lifeline. It is important that all workers are trained on the components of the PFAS, and the rescue plan should a situation arise.

5. Administrative Control or Controlled Access Zone

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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