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Fall Protection Systems


Safety harness saves the day.

If workers will be exposed to fall hazards that you can't eliminate, you'll need to prevent falls from occurring or ensure that if workers do fall, they aren't injured. A fall-protection system is designed to prevent or arrest falls.

Types of Fall-Protection Systems

There are seven general fall-protection systems:

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the that explains the importance of fall arrest systems.

Other Fall-Protection Methods

The following methods may also be appropriate for preventing falls:

  • Safety monitoring for roofing work: A method in which a person - rather than a mechanical system - warns roofers when they are in danger of falling. The monitor, who must be a competent person, is responsible for recognizing the hazards and warning workers about them.
  • Catch platforms: Though not covered in OSHA standards, catch platforms are an acceptable method of protecting workers from falls.
  • Covers for holes: Simple and effective when they're properly installed, rigid covers prevent workers from falling through temporary holes, openings, and skylights in walking/working surfaces.
  • Fences and barricades: Use a fence or similar barricade to keep people away from wells, pits, and shafts.

Identify and Evaluate Fall Hazards

Wherever possible, you need to try to eliminate fall hazards. In many situations, you won't be able to eliminate fall hazards. Make sure you identify hazards that you can't eliminate and evaluate each one. The evaluation will help you determine appropriate fall-protection systems for your work site. Consider the following:

  • What is the fall distance from the walking/working surface to the next lower level?
  • How many workers are exposed to the hazard?
  • What tasks and work areas are associated with the hazard?
  • How will the workers move - horizontally, vertically, or in both directions - to do their tasks?
  • Are secure anchorages available or can they be easily installed near the hazard?
  • Are there other hazards near the work area, such as overhead power lines?
  • How will workers be promptly rescued if they are suspended in a personal fall-arrest system?
PFAS Photo

Personal Fall-Arrest Systems (PFAS)

A personal fall-arrest system consists of an anchorage, connectors, and a full-body harness that work together to stop a fall and to minimize the arrest force. Other parts of the system may include a lanyard, a deceleration device, and a lifeline.

  • Ensure that personal fall arrest systems will, when stopping a fall:
    • Limit maximum arresting force to 1,800 pounds.
    • Be rigged such that an employee can neither free fall more than 6 feet nor contact any lower level.
    • Bring an employee to a complete stop and limit maximum deceleration distance to 3½ feet.
    • Have sufficient strength to withstand twice the potential impact energy of a worker free falling a distance of 6 feet, or the free fall distance permitted by the system, whichever is less.
  • Remove systems and components from service immediately if they have been subjected to fall impact, until inspected by a competent person and deemed undamaged and suitable for use.
  • Promptly rescue employees in the event of a fall, or assure that they are able to rescue themselves.
  • Inspect systems before each use for wear, damage, and other deterioration, and remove defective components from service.
  • Do not attach fall arrest systems to guardrail systems or hoists.
  • Rig fall arrest systems to allow movement of the worker only as far as the edge of the walking/working surface, when used at hoist areas.

Personal Fall-Arrest Systems (PFAS-Continued)

Body Harness

Body harnesses are designed to minimize stress forces on an employee's body in the event of a fall, while providing sufficient freedom of movement to allow work to be performed. Harnesses, and components must be used only for employee protection (as part of a personal fall arrest system) and not to hoist materials.

Keep the following in mind:

  • The harness must be made from synthetic fibers.
  • The harness must fit the user. It should be comfortable and easy to adjust.
  • According to ANSI/ASSE Z359.1, Safety Requirements for Personal Fall Arrest Systems, Subsystems, and Components, the harness must have an attachment point, usually a D-ring, in the center of the back at about shoulder level. A D-ring may also be used in the front of the harness. However, connection at the front D-ring is limited to systems that restrict free fall distance to 2 ft or less and limit the maximum fall arrest loads on the front D-ring to 900 lb of force or less. The D-ring should be large enough to easily accept a lanyard snap hook.
  • Chest straps should be easy to adjust and strong enough to withstand a fall without breaking.
  • Use only industrial full-body harnesses (not recreational climbing harnesses).
  • The harness must be safe and reliable. It should meet ANSI and CSA standards and the manufacturer should have ISO 9001 certification, which shows the manufacturer meets international standards for product design, development, production, installation, and service.

Body Belts

As of January 1, 1998, body belts are not acceptable as part of a personal fall arrest system, because they impose a danger of internal injuries when stopping a fall. Body belts may only be used as part of a positioning system.

Personal Fall-Arrest Systems (PFAS-Continued)


The Anchorage

An anchorage is a secure point of attachment for lifelines, lanyards, or deceleration devices. How can you be sure that an anchorage is secure? An anchorage for a personal fall-arrest system must support at least 5,000 pounds. Anchorages that can't support 5,000 pounds must be designed and installed under the supervision of a qualified person and must be able to maintain a safety factor of at least two - twice the impact force of a worker free-falling 6 feet. If you don't know how much weight an anchorage will support, have a qualified person check it before you trust any life to it.

Anchorage strength is critical, but is not the only factor to consider. Also important:

  • Anchorage connector: Unless an existing anchorage has been designed to accept a lanyard or lifeline, you'll need to attach an anchorage connector - a device that provides a secure attachment point. Examples include tie-off adapters, hook anchors, beam connectors, and beam trolleys. Be sure that the connector is compatible with the lanyard or lifeline and appropriate for the work task.
  • Attachment point: The anchorage can be used only as the attachment point for a personal fall-arrest system; it can't be used to support or suspend platforms.
  • Location: The anchorage should be located directly above the worker, if possible, to reduce the chance of a swing fall.
  • Fall distance: Because a personal fall-arrest system doesn't prevent a fall, the anchorage must be high enough above a worker to ensure that the arrest system, and not the next lower level, stops the fall. Consider free-fall distance, lanyard length, shock-absorber elongation, and body-harness stretch in determining the height of an anchorage. Free-fall distance is the distance a worker falls before a personal fall-arrest system begins to stop the fall.
  • Connectors: An anchorage, a lanyard, and a body harness are not useful until they're linked together. Connectors do the linking; they make the anchorage, the lanyard, and the harness a complete system. Connectors include carabiners, snap hooks, and D-rings.
  • Carabiner: This high-tensile alloy steel connector has a locking gate and is used mostly in specialized work such as window cleaning and high-angle rescue. Carabiners must have a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 pounds.
  • Snap hook: A hook-shaped member with a keeper that opens to receive a connecting component and automatically closes when released. Snap hooks are typically spliced or sewn into lanyards and self-retracting lifelines. Snap hooks must be high-tensile alloy steel and have a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 pounds. Use only locking snap hooks with personal fall-arrest systems; locking snap hooks have self-locking keepers that won't open until they're unlocked.
  • D-ring: D-rings are the attachment points sewn into a full-body harness. D-rings must have a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 pounds.
  • The full-body harness: The full-body harness has straps that distribute the impact of a fall over the thighs, waist, chest, shoulders, and pelvis. Full-body harnesses come in different styles, many of which are light and comfortable. Before you purchase any harness, make sure they fit those who will use them, they're comfortable, and they're easy to adjust. A full-body harness should include a back D-ring for attaching lifelines or lanyards and a back pad for support.

Personal Fall-Arrest Systems (PFAS-Continued)


A lanyard is a specially designed flexible line that has a snap hook at each end. One snap hook connects to the body harness and the other connects to an anchorage or a lifeline. Lanyards must have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds. They come in a variety of designs, including self-retracting types that make moving easier and shock-absorbing types that reduce fall-arrest forces. Don't combine lanyards to increase length or knot them to make them shorter.

Deceleration Devices

Deceleration devices protect workers from the impact of a fall and include shock-absorbing lanyards, self-retracting lifelines or lanyards, and rope grabs.

Shock-Absorbing Lanyard


A shock absorber reduces the impact on a worker during fall arrest by extending up to 3.5 feet to absorb the arrest force. OSHA rules limit the arrest force to 1,800 pounds but a shock-absorbing lanyard can reduce the force even more - to about 900 pounds.

Because a shock-absorbing lanyard extends up to 3.5 feet, it's critical that the lanyard stops the worker before the next lower level. Allow about 20 vertical feet between the worker's anchorage point and the level below the working surface. Always estimate the total distance of a possible fall before using a shock-absorbing lanyard.

Example: Lanyard length (6 feet) + deceleration distance (3.5 feet) + worker's height (6 feet) + safety margin (3 feet) = 18.5 vertical feet from anchorage to lower level.

Never use a shock-absorbing lanyard if the shock absorber is even partially extended or if the lanyard has arrested a fall.

Personal Fall-Arrest Systems (PFAS-Continued)


Self-Retracting Lanyard/Lifeline

Self-retracting lanyards and lifelines offer more freedom to move than shock-absorbing lanyards. Each has a drum-wound line that unwinds and retracts as the worker moves. If the worker falls, the drum immediately locks, which reduces free-fall distance to about 2 feet - if the anchorage point is directly above the worker. Some self-retracting lanyards will reduce free-fall distance to less than one foot. Self-retracting lanyards are available in lengths up to 20 feet. Self-retracting lifelines, which offer more freedom, are available in lengths up to 250 feet.

  • Self-retracting lanyards and lifelines that limit free-fall distance to 2 feet or less must be able to hold at least 3,000 pounds with the lanyard (or lifeline) fully extended.
  • Self-retracting lanyards that don't limit free-fall distance to 2 feet must be able to hold at least 5,000 pounds with the lanyard (or lifeline) fully extended.

If you use a self-retracting lanyard or lifeline, work below the anchorage to avoid a swing fall. The farther you move away from the anchorage, the farther you will fall and the greater your risk of swinging back into a hard object. Swing falls are hazardous because you can hit an object or a lower level during the pendulum motion.

Personal Fall-Arrest Systems (PFAS-Continued)

Rope Grab

A rope grab allows a worker to move up a vertical lifeline but automatically engages and locks on the lifeline if the worker falls. When using a rope grab, keep the following in mind:

  • The rope grab must be compatible with the lifeline.
  • The rope grab must be correctly attached to the lifeline (not upside down).
  • Keep the lanyard (between the rope grab and the body harness) as short as possible.
  • Keep the rope grab as high as possible on the lifeline.

Personal Fall-Arrest Systems (PFAS-Continued)


A lifeline is a cable or rope that connects to a body harness, lanyard, or deceleration device, and at least one anchorage. There are two types of lifelines. (Vertical and Horizontal)

Vertical lifeline: A vertical lifeline is attached to an overhead anchorage and must be connected directly to a worker's full-body harness, lanyard, retractable device, or rope grab; it must have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds.

When a worker needs to move horizontally, however; a vertical lifeline can be hazardous due to the potential for a swing fall - the pendulum motion that results when the worker swings back under the anchor point. A swing fall increases a worker's risk of striking an object or a lower level during the pendulum motion.

Horizontal lifeline: Unlike a vertical lifeline, the horizontal lifeline stretches between two anchorages. When you connect a lanyard or rope grab to the horizontal lifeline, you can move about freely, thus reducing the risk of a swing fall. However, horizontal lifelines are subject to much greater loads than vertical lifelines.


If they're not installed correctly, horizontal lifelines can fail at the anchorage points. For this reason, horizontal lifelines must be designed, installed, and used under the supervision of a qualified person.

Example: When the sag angle is 15 degrees, the force on the lifeline and anchorages subjected to a load is about 2:1. However, if you decrease the sag angle to 5 degrees, the force increases to about 6:1. To reduce loads on a horizontal lifeline, increase the sag angle or connect to the lifeline with a shock-absorbing lanyard.

Safe Practices for Personal Fall-Arrest Systems

  • Don't tie knots in rope lanyards and lifelines; knots can reduce strength by 50%.
  • Don't tie lifelines or lanyards directly to I-beams; the cutting action of beam edges can reduce the rope's strength by 70%.
  • Know how the sag angle of a horizontal lifeline can affect arrest forces on the anchorages. Remember that horizontal lifelines must be designed, installed, and used under the supervision of a qualified person.
  • Think about the potential for a swing fall whenever you connect a lifeline to a personal fall-arrest system.
  • Remember that a shock-absorbing lanyard will elongate before arresting a fall. The fall distance includes lanyard length (before the shock absorber extends), deceleration distance (shock-absorber extension), worker height, and a safety margin (allow 3 feet).

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the that makes the case for tie-offs in residential construction.


Five roofing-company workers had been removing cedar shingles and replacing them with plywood sheeting and composition roofing at a two-story home on an afternoon in mid-January.

The crew had stopped work for lunch and returned to work about 1:30 p.m. While four of the crew went up on the roof, the victim remained on the ground to push plywood sheets up an extension ladder to crew members on the roof. When all the plywood sheets were on the roof, the victim climbed the ladder and got on the roof. Then he bent down near the top of the ladder, apparently to adjust it.

Another worker on the roof heard a loud noise, rushed over to the ladder, and discovered that the victim had fallen 17 feet to the ground. The workers climbed down to assist the victim and the supervisor called 911 on his cell phone. The workers administered first aid and immobilized the victim's neck. EMTs took the victim to a hospital where he died later that day of traumatic head injuries.


The victim, who was hired the day of the accident, had no fall-protection training or instruction in ladder use. Workers at the site had fall-protection equipment but were not using it according to the manufacturer's instructions; the victim was not using the equipment. The roof edge was more than 17 feet above the ground and the ladder was not tied off.



Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. A fall-arrest system _____ the fall and the fall-restraint system _____ the fall.

2. Which of the following is not one of the major components of a personal fall-arrest system?

3. Anchorages that can't support 5,000 pounds must be designed and installed under the supervision of _____.

4. In the U.S., a body belt may be used as part of a personal fall-arrest system if a full-body harness is defective.

5. Which of the following is true regarding lanyards?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.