Fall Safety 101

Discover when and where fall protection is required, what solutions are available, and what is needed to meet current regulations.

Anchorage – a secure point of attachment for lifelines, lanyards or deceleration devices.

Anchorage Connector – used to join the connecting device (lanyard, lifeline, or deceleration device) to the anchorage.

Arresting Force – the force transmitted to the body when a fall is arrested. Also known as Fall Arrest Force.

Body Belt – a waist strap for attaching to a lanyard, lifeline or deceleration device. Used for positioning and/or restraint. Also known as a Safety Belt.

Body Harness – a design of straps which is secured about a person in a manner to distribute fall arresting forces over at least the thighs, pelvis, waist, chest and shoulders, with provisions for attaching it to other components of a personal fall arrest system. Also known as a Full-Body Harness.

Body Wear – the personal protective equipment worn by a worker, such as a body belt or body harness.

Buckle – an integral connector used to attach straps or webbing segments together or to themselves.

Cam Buckle – an integral connector whereby the shoulder straps can be easily adjusted simultaneously with one hand. Promotes proper snug fit; will not slip or misadjust.

Competent Person – one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authority to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

Connecting Device – the critical link which joins the body wear to the anchorage/anchorage connector, such as shock-absorbing lanyard, fall limiter, self-retracting lifeline, rope grab, etc.

Connector – a mechanism or device used to join together components of a personal fall arrest system or parts of a component within the system.
D-Ring – an integral component or provision commonly found on body wear and some anchorage connectors which allows for attaching a connecting device (lanyard, lifeline, or deceleration device).

Deceleration Device – any mechanism which serves to dissipate energy during a fall arrest, limiting the forces imposed on a person.

Deceleration Distance – the additional vertical distance a falling person travels, excluding lifeline elongation and free fall distance, before stopping, from the point at which the deceleration device begins to operate. It is measured as the distance between the location of a person’s body harness attachment point at the moment of activation (onset of fall arrest forces) of the deceleration device during a fall, and the location of that attachment point after the person comes to a full stop.

Fall Indicator – a safety device or warning flag which serves to let a user know that a shock-absorbing lanyard has been involved in a fall and should be removed from service.

Fall Limiter – a self-retracting lifeline/lanyard with a quick-activating braking system that limits a free fall. Refer to Self-Retracting Lifeline/Lanyard. (Ex.: Miller MiniLite® Fall Limiter.)

Free Fall – the act of falling before the personal fall arrest system begins to arrest the fall.

Free Fall Distance – the vertical distance a person falls before the fall arrest system begins to arrest the fall.

Friction Buckle – an integral connector whereby the webbing passes over the knurled bar and back down between the knurled bar and frame to adjust and tighten webbing straps.

Hardware – buckles, D-rings, snap hooks and associated connectors which are used to attach components of a personal fall arrest system or parts of a component within the system.

Lanyard – a flexible line of rope, wire rope/cable, or webbing which generally has a connector at each end for securing a body belt or body harness to a lifeline, deceleration device or anchorage.

Lanyard Ring – a component of a body harness that allows the user to attach a lanyard when not in use so that it is not hanging freely.

Lifeline – a line provided for direct or indirect attachment to a body belt, body harness, lanyard, or deceleration device. Such lifelines may be horizontal or vertical in application.

Locking Snap Hook – a snap hook that includes a locking mechanism which will keep the hook closed and locked until manually unlocked and opened.

Lower Level – an area or surface to which a person can fall.

Mating Buckle – an integral connector whereby a center bar is pushed through a square link. Webbing is then tightened for proper fit.

Maximum Arrest Force – the peak force on the body during arrest of a fall by the fall arrest system. Also known as Peak Fall Arrest Force.

Personal Fall Arrest System
 – an arrangement of components that together will arrest a person in a fall from a working level. It typically consists of an anchorage, connecting device and body harness, and may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline or a combination of these.

Personal Fall Limiter (PFL)
 – a self-retracting lanyard with a quick-activating braking system that limits a free fall. In addition, a PFL offers versatility through dual operation by either attaching directly to the harness back D-ring for use as a personal fall limiter, or can be used as a traditional retractable lifeline. (Ex.: Miller Scorpion™ Personal Fall Limiter.)

Quick-Connect Buckle – for leg and chest harness straps that interlock similar to a seat belt for easy use and features a dual-tab release mechanism to prevent accidental opening.

Retractable Lifeline – See Self-Retracting Lifeline/Lanyard.

Rollout – a process by which a snap hook, carabiner or similar device unintentionally disengages from another component to which it is attached.

Rope Grab – a deceleration device which travels on a lifeline and automatically engages the lifeline and locks to arrest a fall.

Self-Retracting Lifeline/Lanyard – a deceleration device containing a drum-wound line which can be slowly extracted from or retracted onto the drum under slight tension during normal worker movement, and which, after onset of a fall, automatically locks the drum and arrests the fall. Refer to Fall Limiter. (Ex.: Miller MightyLite, Falcon™ and Black Rhino™ Self-Retracting Lifelines.)

Shock Absorber – a component of a personal fall arrest system which allows dissipation of energy by extending deceleration distance reducing fall arrest forces.

Shock-Absorbing Lanyard – specially-designed lanyard that elongates during a fall to significantly reduce fall arresting forces.

Snap Hook – a connector with a hook-shaped member, keeper, latch or other similar arrangement which may be opened to receive an object and, when released, automatically closes to retain the object.

Strap – a length of webbing.

Stretchable Harness – a full-body harness that is more comfortable to wear because the webbing is a blend of nylon, polyester, and a specially-formulated elastomer that stretches. Includes provisions for attaching a lanyard, lifeline or deceleration device.

Sub-Pelvic Strap – a full-body harness strap, which passes under the buttocks without passing through the crotch, that is designed to transmit forces applied during fall arrest or post-fall suspension to the sub-pelvic part of the body.

Suspension Trauma (Orthostatic Intolerance) – when a person falls and remains both vertical and sedentary for a period of time, blood pools in the veins of the legs, which could result in unconsciousness. If a person is not rescued quickly, permanent damage and possibly death may result. (Miller Relief Step Safety Device relieves suspension trauma.)

Tie-Back Lanyard – a flexible line of heavy-duty, abrasion-resistant webbing designed to be used as the connecting device and anchorage connector with a specially-engineered snap hook able to withstand 5,000 lbs. (22kN) (Ex.: Miller BackBiter® Tie-Back Lanyard.)

Tongue Buckle – an integral connector similar to a standard belt buckle whereby a webbing strap is inserted through the buckle placing the buckle tongue through the appropriate grommet hole. Also known as a Grommet Buckle.

Total Fall Clearance Distance – the maximum vertical distance that a worker could potentially fall and still avoid contact with a lower level.

Total Fall Distance – the maximum vertical distance between the full-body harness attachment point and the lowest extremity of the body before and after the fall is arrested including lanyard extension and/or deceleration distance.

Trailing Rope Grab – a rope grab, which moves freely up and down the lifeline with hands-free operation.

Falls are among the most common causes of serious work related injuries and deaths. Employers must set up the work place to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated workstations or into holes in the floor and walls.

Employers must set up the work place to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated workstations or into holes in the floor and walls. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, and that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.

To prevent employees from being injured from falls, employers must:

  • Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk (using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover).
  • Provide a guardrail and toe-board around every elevated open sided platform, floor or runway.
  • Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto dangerous machines or equipment (such as a vat of acid or a conveyor belt) employers must provide guardrails and toe-boards to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
  • Other means of fall protection that may be required on certain jobs include safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings and handrails.

When talking about fall protection solutions, many people tend to go directly to “tying-off”.  Granted, it is a well-known and often-used solution, but it is by no means the first solution that should be discussed when determining what methods will be used on a given job or for a given task.  In fact, there is a hierarchy of solutions that should always be evaluated – in order – to determine which is the safest, most effective one.

Level 1 – Elimination of Hazards

There is no safer, more effective way to protect an employee from a fall than to remove the fall hazard itself.  There are a number of ways this can be accomplished, such as changing the work so that the employee does not need to work at heights or by erecting a scaffold or some other system that protects the edge that was previously in question.  Granted, these solutions are not always feasible or cost-effective (is it worth erecting a scaffold around a roof perimeter so that a maintenance worker can change one air-handling unit filter?), but they do need to be considered.  If there is no fall hazard, there’s no fall.

Level 2 – Collective

The second most effective fall protection solution is one which requires as little employee thought or action as possible.  This type of solution is a collective solution – a solution that protects all workers at once, such as railings or barriers.  Collective systems do not require users to do anything (such as put on a harness or secure a lanyard to an anchor point) in order to be protected, thereby leaving much less room for human error.  These systems are also known as passive systems.

Level 3 – Work Restraint

In situations where elimination or collective systems are not feasible, companies should look toward work restraint.  Work restraint is the first example of “tying-off”, however it is still not the one most people think of.  Work restraint uses personal fall arrest equipment (harness, lanyard, and anchor point) in such a way that the user cannot reach the edge.  Because of this configuration, this type of “tying-off” prevents the user from falling in the first place.   Sometimes, however, the restrictions associated with work restraint prevent a worker from doing the work that needs to be done, or reaching an area he or she needs to reach, so companies cannot employ it as a solution.

Level 4 – Fall Arrest

When all other solutions are infeasible, a company must consider fall arrest.  Fall arrest uses the same equipment as work restraint, however in this situation the fall protection equipment does not engage until after there has already been a fall.  When it engages, the equipment slows the worker’s descent, bringing them to a safe stop.  This is the least desirable choice for a number of reasons: 1) It’s the only system in which a fall needs to occur in order for it to work.  Anytime that happens, there is room for equipment failure or user error that allows for injury to the worker. 2) Injuries can still be sustained in the fall even if the equipment works properly, such as from striking a lower part of the structure or internal injuries from arresting forces incurred on the body (both of these situations are more likely if the equipment wasn’t used properly – such as in a swing situation or where the allowed free fall distance was too great).  3) A rescue plan is needed.  If a person who has fallen is not rescued quickly (sometimes a matter of minutes), they could suffer suspension trauma that could result in serious health issues, including amputations or death.  In some circumstances, rescue is very difficult.   And while there are some devices on the market that help to alleviate suspension trauma, they usually require an action by the user.  If the user was unconscious prior to, or as a result of, the fall, or if they are simply too panicked to focus, using these devices could be impossible.  Regardless, despite the disadvantages to this method, fall arrest is still a much more desirable option than a worker plummeting to his or her death.