Construction site working at height

Falls are the second most common cause of injuries in the workplace.

Despite this statistic, it’s impossible to eliminate every fall hazard, especially in the construction industry. There are times where working at height is necessary, and fall protection is of the utmost importance.

One of the most important aspects of fall protection is the proper usage of fall protection systems. 

Let’s dive into what a fall protection system entails, the different types of systems, and when they’re necessary.


What is a Fall Protection System? 

OSHA defines a fall protection system as “a system that an employer uses to provide protection from falling or to safely arrest an employee’s fall if one occurs.” 


Although this is fairly self-explanatory, there are two different types of fall protection systems: Active and passive. Within these two categories comes even more options.


Before using fall protection systems, it’s important to evaluate the site and determine why there are fall hazards in the first place. Is there a way to get the job done without the risk of a fall? If there’s absolutely no way around working at height, that’s where fall protection systems come in.


Passive Fall Protection Systems

A passive fall protection system requires no active participation from the worker to operate correctly. These systems are static and do not change when they aren’t in use. They also don’t include any personal protective equipment to function. 

Some common examples of passive fall protection systems include:

  • Netting
  • Guardrails
  • Handrails
  • Barricades

Active Fall Protection Systems 

Active fall protection systems require both special equipment and participation from workers themselves. They typically involve securing a worker using a harness attached to a designated anchor point with a lanyard. 


Proper training on how to use active fall protection systems is crucial as well. Improper use can result in serious injury or death. 

There are two common types of active fall protection systems:

  1. Fall restraint systems
  2. Fall arrest systems

Fall restraint systems keep workers centered on a work platform without being able to fall over the edge. They use fixed-length lanyards connected to an anchor point at one end and a properly harnessed worker at the other end. 


Fall arrest systems are designed to keep a worker safe if a fall occurs. They use an anchor point, a lanyard or self-retracting lifeline, and a harness that can withstand enough force to keep a worker from striking a surface below.


The best fall protection plan incorporates both passive and active fall protection systems. A combination of the two ensures maximum protection from fall hazards. 


When Do You Need Fall Protection Systems?

Despite fall protection being an important part of job site safety, there remains some uncertainty about when fall protection systems are necessary. More specifically, at what height they’re required.

The answer to this question depends on the industry:

  • For long shoring operations, fall protection systems are required at 8 feet or more above a lower level
  • For construction industry workplaces, fall protection systems are required at 6 feet or more above a lower level
  • For shipyards, fall protection systems are required at 5 feet or more above a lower level
  • For general industries, fall protection systems are required at 4 feet or more above a lower level
  • In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery regardless of the fall distance. 

Fall Protection Systems Are a Necessary Part of Job Site Safety

There are times when it isn’t possible to avoid working at height. Fall protection systems are used to protect workers when this is the case.

It may seem like a burden to some workers to set up fall protection systems every time they work at height. However, even falls below 10 feet can result in fatalities. 

Use both types of fall protection systems on the job site to keep your workers safe. 


Fall Protection Systems Should Be Outlined In Your Working At Heights Safety Plan

Information on fall protection systems and how to use them properly should be located in your job site safety plan. If you haven’t written one yet, Tanner can help. Use our Working at Heights Safety Program template to help you create your own.