Personal Fall Arrest Systems
Identify the most common hazards posed by falling and the reasons you should use fall protection equipment
Identify the components of a personal fall arrest system and how they work together to arrest a fall
Identify key fall arrest system design and selection requirements
Identify the steps for properly inspecting and donning the most common personal fall arrest system equipment
Where employees are exposed to serious fall hazards, and protection by other means such as guard rails or nets are not used, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to establish a personal fall arrest program for fall protection. These programs typically identify common hazards and offer solutions for mitigating them, usually by instructing the use of fall protection systems, outlining situations where fall arrest devices are appropriate for use.
It is important to understand how personal fall arrest systems work and what behaviors are required to use them safely. It is of course good practice to visually inspect these systems and physically test them prior to use.
Most personal fall protection systems involve the use of wearable harnesses, designed to suspend a free falling worker. Even with a harness properly in place, the force required to arrest a free fall places considerable stress on the body. For example, a 200-pound person free-falling 6 feet, with an additional distance of 3.5 feet for the system to completely arrest the fall, equals a total force of 542 pounds of force generated on the body. While personal fall arrest systems save lives, the body can be incredibly stressed by the act of violent restraint.
If the harness is improperly positioned or improperly attached, the stress to the groin, back, and chest increases dramatically. The pressure applied to the legs from the leg straps supporting the body’s weight, even for properly worn harnesses, can result in a restriction of blood flowing to and from the legs. If the worker cannot be rescued quickly, serious injury can result from this condition. Even with all parts of the system working perfectly, a worker suspended in a body harness faces the serious hazard of restricted blood flow to and from their legs.
The ground is not the only thing that poses a hazard to employees working at heights. Contact with any lower level structure or other object beneath workers also poses a serious hazard in a fall, even when wearing fall arrest equipment. The components in a personal fall arrest system are designed to work together to limit a worker’s fall distance and the deceleration forces on the worker’s body to safe levels.
One method for preventing this situation until rescue can be accomplished is the use of trauma suspension straps. These straps are deployed by the suspended worker and attached to the body harness, and allow the person to stand with one or both feet in a stirrup. This removes the body's weight from the leg straps that tend to cut off circulation to the legs until the worker is rescued.
To protect your safety in the event of a fall, OSHA requires specific minimum requirements. Anchorages to which personal fall arrest equipment is attached must be capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds per employee attached. Rings and snap hooks must also be capable of sustaining a minimum tensile load of 5,000 pounds. Self-retracting lifelines and lanyards which automatically limit free fall distance to 2 feet or less must be capable of sustaining a minimum tensile load of 3,000 pounds applied to the device with the lifeline or lanyard in the fully extended position.
Self-retracting lifelines and lanyards which do not limit free fall distance to 2 feet or less, ripstitch lanyards, and tearing and deforming lanyards must be capable of sustaining a minimum tensile load of 5,000 pounds applied to the device with the lifeline or lanyard in the fully extended position.
Tips for properly attaching your connecting device to an anchor point:
Do work directly under the anchorage, whenever possible, to avoid injury resulting from swinging and striking another object during a fall.
Do ensure that the anchorage is at a height that will not allow a lower level to be struck should a fall occur.
Do attach to the anchorage or anchorage point specified by the qualified person.
Do tie off in a manner that limits free fall to the shortest possible distance.
Don’t attach your snap hook around a sharp or rough edge. Use a cross-arm strap or other compatible anchorage connector.
Don’t attach multiple lanyards together.
Encourage your workers to always wear personal fall arrest systems, and to remain vigilant about the presence of potential pitfalls when working at heights.
Fall Arrest Systems
Fall arrest systems are designed to minimize injury from a fall. It is important that fall arrest equipment is used correctly to prevent injury as much as possible. Fall arrest equipment includes body support devices (harnesses), lanyards and anchorages.
An anchor is a secure point attached to a fixed structural component, like a beam or column. An anchor must be able to support the arresting forces if a fall occurs and a static load of at least 5,000 pounds (2268 kg) for each employee attached to it.
A body harness is a body support device that distributes fall arrest forces across the shoulders, thighs, and pelvis.
Connectors include any piece of equipment that links the body harness to the anchor. Connectors commonly consist of snap hooks affixed to a shock-absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lifeline (SRL) that arrests the body during a fall.
Fall Arrest System Components
Inspecting and Donning the System
Basic System Performance Requirements
1910.21 Scope and definitions
1910.22 General requirements
1910.27 Scaffolds and rope descent systems
1910.28 Duty to have fall protection and falling object protection
1910.29 Fall protection systems and falling object protection—criteria and practices
1910.30 Training requirements
1910.66 Powered platforms for building maintenance
1910.67 Vehicle-mounted elevating and rotating work platforms
1910.140 Personal fall protection systems
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