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What is the difference between fall prevention, restraint, and arrest?

In 2018, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) made 7,270 citations on general conditions alone, which means that many teams do not use the correct safety practices on the job. While the penalties for compliance failure can be steep, the harm to your crew is far more damaging. Of people who died on the job, 54% had zero access to fall protection equipment, and one in five of all fatalities are in construction. These events are preventable, which is why OSHA pushes strict regulations.

Once the hazards are identified, your team can implement proper mitigation strategies and provide workers with critical personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep your workers safe when working at heights. For more information on Hazard Assessments please visit,

After a good hazard analysis you’ll find your plan for fall protection on the job site. Fall protection isn’t all harnesses and lanyards. Sometimes you can provide an environment where falling isn’t a possibility. A company can use passive fall restraint. They can also eliminate the hazard completely. If those two options cannot be accomplished, then move on to active fall restraint which does include a harness lanyard and other components of a PFAS. If those are not feasible, moving to fall arrest is the last and only at the last resort should administrative control be used. This would be controlled by access zones or a safety monitor. Let’s look at examples of each of these types of Fall Protection.

Eliminating the fall hazard is exactly what it sounds like. If there is a piece of machinery at heights, can it be disassembled and brought to ground level, or ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to perform this task at heights.

If the task is necessary and you cannot eliminate the hazard completely, the next step is to work in passive fall restraint. Passive fall restraint would have a worker in an area where a fall could not occur because the fall hazard is guarded by permanent or a temporary structure tested to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

One example is installing a fall protection guardrail with top board, mid board, and toeboard for protection of a fall hazard. If the task is necessary and you cannot remove the hazard or guard yourself from the hazard in a passive way, then you move to active fall restraint.

An example of active fall restraint will be working in an aerial lift while remaining in the man basket while performing the work. Another example would be wearing a non-shock absorbing lanyard that is shorter than the distance to your fall hazard. When wearing your personal fall arrest system, your hazard may be 6 feet away if you’re using a harness with an adjustable lanyard. You need to adjust your lanyard to shorter than the 6 feet hazard you are working in active fall restraint to remove yourself from the ability to fall..

If the task is necessary, you cannot remove the hazard, you cannot guard yourself in passive or active fall restraint, then you will move to fall arrest. Fall arrest utilizes all components of a personal fall arrest system including anchorage, bodywear, connector, and deceleration device. Every component in this system works together to arrest a fall. Each of these components will have been tested, verified and inspected to work together to arrest the fall. Fall clearance should be calculated, and the correct anchorage and deceleration device should be utilized for each hazard.

The last resort for safely working at heights is controlled access to the zones or administrative control. An example of a controlled access zone would be a flat roof with colorful flags to regulation height that serve as a barrier and a visual sign for the worker to not pass. There are standards that you must abide by when setting this warning line. Another is one dedicated employee as a safety monitor to ensure that the control access zone is respected by all employees on the job site. This type of fall protection is only authorized when all other methods of fall protection are unable to be reasonably performed.

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.

The Hierarchy of Fall Protection

  1. Eliminate the fall hazard
    1. Always preferred!
    2. Bring work to ground level
    3. Design changes to allow work from ground level
  2. Passive fall restraint
    1. Physical barriers such as guardrails or parapets
    2. Minimum training required
    3. Written rescue plan recommended
  3. Active Fall Restraint
    1. Restraint system required (body belt, full-body harness, lanyard and anchor)
    2. “Authorized Person” training required
    3. Written rescue plan required
  4. Fall Arrest
    1. Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS) or protective netting
    2. “Authorized Person” training required
    3. Written rescue plan required
  5. Controlled Access Zones
    1. Least preferred!
    2. Conventional fall protection is not feasible
    3. For specific work only (leading edge masonry or tilt-up construction)
    4. Rescue plan recommended

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