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Types of Fall Protection

The industrial sector and construction industry involve tasks performed high in the air on rooftops or near other fall hazards, which leads to several safety concerns. OSHA cites fall protection as one of the top ten OSHA violations each year, and people often report workplace injuries resulting from falls. Understanding and implementing different types of fall protection helps prevent injuries and keeps your employees safe while working at heights. We've outlined various fall protection systems, necessary fall equipment, and safety tips for workers.

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Use the following links to learn about types of fall protection:

  1. Fall Restraint vs Fall Arrest
  2. Fall Arrest Systems
  3. Fall Protection Checklist
  4. Fall Protection Safety Tips
  5. Types of Fall Protection Equipment

Fall Restraint vs Fall Arrest

Deciding between a fall restraint vs fall arrest system is the first step to any project with a fall hazard. Both are under active fall protection, which applies when fall elimination and passive protection solutions aren't viable. Industry professionals refer to this progression as the fall protection hierarchy.

  • Elimination: removing the fall hazard by keeping vital systems close to the ground or using specialized tools to fix things out of reach.
  • Passive protection: preventing falls by placing physical barriers around edges that present a fall risk, such as guardrails on roofs or covers over holes. This category is simple, minimizes training, and eliminates the need for fall-related PPE.
  • Active protection: stopping falls as they happen using dynamic systems and appropriate equipment. This system allows workers to reach all corners of a facility and perform necessary tasks safely.

In this hierarchy, eliminating and preventing falls through passive protection is the first step in workplace safety. However, active protection plays a fundamental role in construction and industrial settings. Implementing these systems and procedures increases the output and efficiency of your operation while protecting your employees as they work at heights.

Within active protection, fall restraint prevents workers from reaching the edge of a drop, while fall arrest decelerates and halts free-falling workers. When you debate whether to use fall restraint vs fall arrest for a job, take the time to learn about the task's environment and choose the system that keeps employees safe without hindering them.

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Fall Arrest

Fall arrest is a type of fall protection required for people working near a fall hazard 6 feet or more above the ground. If the worker falls, their fall arrest system decelerates their fall and stops them from hitting the ground. Equipment used in these systems is designed to absorb shock and distribute force throughout the entire body, reducing the risk of injury caused by the fall arrest itself.

According to OSHA, fall arrest has three essential pieces of gear known as the ABCs of fall protection.

  • Anchorage connects to a stable support that can withstand at least twice the anticipated weight of a person free-falling from 6 feet.
  • Body support, such as a full-body harness, is worn by the employee to absorb the shock of the fall.
  • Connectors, such as lanyards, bridge the gap between anchorage and body support and is the key to arresting the fall.
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Fall Restraint

Though fall restraint involves similar equipment to fall arrest, its function is to stop a fall before it happens. The lanyard between the anchor and body support is short enough to prevent the worker from reaching the edge of the fall hazard, eliminating the risk of an at-height fall. Another difference in a fall restraint system is the inclusion of fixed anchors in addition to portable anchors. If a facility frequently requires employees to work on a roof or at height for small projects, they install fixed anchors with easy connectivity for fall restraint systems.

Despite these differences, OSHA still requires all fall restraint systems to include anchorage, a body harness, and connectors with equally vigorous inspection standards.

Fall Arrest Systems

While fall arrest stops a fall, there are other fall arrest systems that perform a specific function for at-height workers. Some tasks require employees to hang in the air with no solid support beneath their feet, which is where these systems apply. Like all fall arrest systems, they include anchorage, body support, and connectors, but they also allow workers more control for adjustments as they work.

Note: Implement these systems on top of standard fall arrest, not in place of fall arrest.

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1. Suspension System

A suspension system allows workers to perform tasks suspended in the air without unintentional changes in position. This way, employees can work with both hands and adjust their rigging as needed. Unlike positioning systems, suspension systems allow workers to lower themselves at will. The most common application of a suspension system is window washing, construction, and painting. Additionally, this is not a substitute for standard fall arrest rigging.

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2. Positioning System

A positioning system secures the worker to an elevated vertical surface, allowing them to sit back in their harness and work with both hands. Some systems will hold the position once the worker leans back in their harness. Facilities use this system for ladder-related tasks. However, positioning systems are not a form of fall arrest and should pair with standard fall arrest protection.

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3. Retrieval System

Also known as a rescue system, a retrieval system functions after a worker has already fallen. Sometimes, this involves lowering connectors and winching the worker up or lowering down an additional worker to retrieve the fallen employee. These systems apply to uninjured, functioning employees and unresponsive, injured workers. There are no specific OSHA guidelines for a retrieval system, but safety regulations state that all facilities with employees working at height must have one implemented. Additionally, a set retrieval system should only be used for retrieval and rescue, not as a fall arrest system repurposed for retrieval scenarios.

Fall Protection Checklist

Before working at height or near a fall hazard, check to ensure you have the necessary equipment on a fall protection checklist. Regardless of the system, these items increase the safety of at-height workers and the employees around them. Additionally, inspect equipment regularly to ensure that gear aligns with OSHA standards before using it.

Personal Protective Equipment

In addition to gear specifically designed for fall protection, all employees working at height should also wear personal protective equipment (PPE). While requirements for PPE vary depending on the context, a few types of PPE are crucial for employees working at height.

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  • Helmet:hard helmet is fundamental for every worker near a fall hazard, helping to prevent serious head injuries from falling. Additionally, it protects employees if they hit their heads on support during a fall arrest or if tools fall.
  • Safety goggles: The need for safety goggles depends on the type of work but keeping some with you while working at heights allows you to continue working without needing to ascend or descend.
  • Protective gloves: Protective gloves are crucial if you’re working with ropes or pulley systems, protecting your hands from rope burns and splinters.
  • Proper footwear: In climbing or at-height work, proper footwear is the difference between falling and making it safely to the top. There are many types of safety shoes, so check that your shoes have a closed toe and tread to prevent slipping.


Connectors serve as the bridge between the body support component and the anchorage connector. They often include an energy-absorbing element to prevent injury during the fall, and some connectors include a control system that allows you to adjust the line as needed. Additionally, connectors include backup webbing and clips connecting the lanyard to the harness.

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  • Lanyard:lanyard connects the body harness to the anchor or lifeline with a line of energy-absorbing webbing. They’re shorter in length than a lifeline and sometimes include a pack that explodes when a falling force is applied.
  • Self-retracting lifelines (SRLs): Self-retracting lifelines include an automatic belay system that keeps constant tension on the line. The webbing, rope, or cable retracts into the housing unit attached to the anchorage, and this adjustable aspect provides a wide range of work.
  • Vertical lifeline systems: For environments that require climbing, consider implementing vertical lifeline systems. They include rope grabs and occasionally specific ladder types to keep employees from falling.
  • Carabiners: While lanyards and lifelines often come with their own clipping element, carabiners are ideal for backup systems and extra security. Although screw-gate carabiners work for backups, use a triple-lock carabiner with any primary line or additional support.
  • Webbing: Like carabiners, having additional webbing on hand while working at heights reduces potential accidents. You can use it to quickly rig up an extra anchor while working suspended and connect it to your harness.
  • Rope grabs: As the name suggests, rope grabs latch onto your lifeline as an additional connection point that you can adjust as needed. If you fall, the grab automatically locks to arrest your fall.

Body Support

While harnesses are the most common equipment in this category, body support includes all equipment worn directly by workers to support themselves in case of a fall. Not all body support equipment qualifies for fall arrest systems, so check that before utilizing them.

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  • Harness: A harness consists of straps, webbing, and clips to secure your body should you fall. There are many types of harnesses, including full-body harnesses, chest harnesses, and half-body harnesses. Check safety requirements for your specific project before choosing a harness to ensure you meet standards.
  • Body belt: A body belt is a positioning tool that retrains someone working near a fall hazard to reduce the risk of falling. However, they do not function as a fall arrest system.
  • Workseat: Using a workseat reduces strain on your hips and legs while suspended, functioning like a stool in mid-air. A workseat is not a method of fall arrest, merely an aid for at-height work.

Anchorage Connector

OSHA refers to an anchorage connector as a secure connection point in any fall protection system.

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Often, anchorage consists of a webbing length or steel cable looped around a structurally-sound support like a steel beam or concrete surface. A D-ring then connects to the webbing or steel cable and secures it around the support, allowing you to attach connectors. If someone falls, the anchorage ultimately keeps them from hitting the ground.

There are also options for permanent anchorage connectors installed directly into the structural support. These are ideal options for areas where workers frequently perform tasks, saving time and potential safety errors from reconnecting a temporary anchor every time.

Fall Protection Safety Tips

Regardless of what protocols you put in place, there are some fall protection safety tips that all employees should know and follow. Working near fall hazards or being suspended in the air could result in fatal accidents, but implementing safety practices helps keep everyone above and below as safe as possible.

  • Inspect all equipment before using it, including the supports anchor connectors will be attached to while employees are working.
  • Perform a head-to-toe check before ascending or descending. This process includes checking harnesses, connectors, anchors, and PPE to ensure everything is properly fastened.
  • Maintain three points of contact when changing positions at height, such as climbing a ladder.
  • Routinely check anchorage and resecure connectors and anchors as needed.
  • Check calculations of fall distances and cross-check your equipment with the results.
  • Avoid crossing riggings or connectors. Additionally, do not walk below suspended workers or in the triangle between a worker, the support, and the connector.
  • Keep backup riggings connected to your harness. As you work, secure these backups to nearby supports in case your primary connector fails.
  • Secure all equipment and tools while working at heights to avoid creating additional hazards.

Types of Fall Protection Equipment

Use our infographic to understand the different types of fall protection equipment and systems outlined in this guide.

Infographic detailing types of Fall Protection and illustrations of proper technique and equipment.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.

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