Four Types of Active Fall Protection Equipment and OSHA Standards

Passive fall protection—such as guardrails, netting, and safety gates—is rarely cost-effective and may not even be possible to incorporate into a construction project. However, falls remain a leading cause of injury and death in the construction industry. For this reason, it is vital that employers provide their employees with active fall protection equipment and teach them to use it properly. We’ll discuss four types of fall protection, OSHA safety standards they must meet and which fall protection component allows the least amount of free fall.

1. Personal Fall Arrest System: 1926.502(d)

Fall Arrest System The goal of this form of fall protection is to stop, or arrest, an employee who is falling from a walking surface. It consists of a combination of the following components, which OSHA calls “the A, B, Cs of personal fall arrest systems.

  • Anchorages. According to OSHA, “anchorage means a secure point of attachment for equipment such as lifelines, lanyards, or deceleration devices.” Examples include I-beams and tie off straps, which must be able to support a minimum of 5,000 pounds per worker or at least twice the expected load of a person falling 6 feet. OSHA requires that anchorages attached to a complete fall arrest system remain separate from anchorages that support or suspend platforms. It is crucial that all anchor points are designed and installed by an OSHA-approved, qualified person.
  • Body harness. Body harnesses must secure an employee in a way that would minimize the arresting force of a fall to 1,800 pounds or less. It must be capable of supporting 310 pounds of combined tool and body weight. Never attach a body harness to a guardrail system or hoist.
  • Components. These include connectors, lanyards, deceleration devices, and self-retracting lifelines.
    • Connectors: OSHA dictates that D-rings and snaphooks ‘must have a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 pounds and be proof-tested to a minimum tensile load of 3,600 pounds without cracking, breaking, or becoming permanently deformed.’
    • Lifelines & Lanyards: Except during elevator shaft construction, each employee must be attached to a separate lifeline or lanyard. Vertical lifelines and lanyards must have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds and be protected from cuts or abrasions. When fully extended, self-retractable lifelines and lanyards that automatically limit free fall distance to 2 feet must be able to support a tensile load of at least 3,000 pounds. Other types of lifelines and lanyards include horizontal, ripstitch, and tearing and deforming. Ropes and straps (webbing) used in their construction must be made of synthetic fibers.
    • Deceleration devices: A deceleration device is any mechanism that safely slows down a fall and limits the energy imposed on an employee once the fall has stopped. Examples of deceleration devices include rope grabs, ripstitch lanyards, tearing and deforming lanyards, and self-retracting lifelines and lanyards.

2. Positioning System: 1926.502(e)

Positioning SystemAlso called work-positioning equipment, a positioning system is a body belt or body harness system that allows a worker to be supported on an elevated vertical surface, such as a wall, window sill, or ladder, and work with both hands free. OSHA code dictates that the body belt or body harness used in conjunction with a positioning system must limit free fall distance to 2 feet and be capable of supporting at least twice the potential impact of a worker’s fall or 3,000 pounds, whichever is greater. The restraint (tether) lines must also have a minimum breaking strength of 3,000 pounds. Snaphooks other than the locking type must not be connected to each other.

3. Suspension System: 1926.452(o)

Work suspension systemSuspension systems are commonly used by painters and window washers, as they allow employees to lift and lower themselves along a vertical surface while working hands-free. A fall arrest system must still be used alongside a suspension system. 

4. Retrieval System: 1926.502(d)(20) 

Retrieval SystemOSHA requires that “the employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.” Retrieving a worker who has fallen is essential to a fall protection plan. Although OSHA does not provide specific instructions as to how retrieval should be accomplished, it does outline some guidelines that should govern a rescue plan. This is especially important in cases that involve enclosed spaces such as manholes. Rescue equipment should be connected to the employee at the outset and is not to be used for purposes other than rescuing a fallen worker. A rescue plan must also consider the safety of the rescuer. Retrieval equipment "must enable a rescuer to remove an injured employee from the enclosed space quickly and without injury to the rescuer or further harm to the fallen employee."


Americrane and Hoist Corp. is your number one choice for fall protection equipment. Our Elk River brand adjustable harnesses offer custom-fit comfort without sacrificing safety. You can also choose from several energy-absorbing lanyards, self-retracting lifelines, and anchorage connectors. Each of our products is built with the highest quality of craftsmanship, a testament to our keen focus on worker safety.

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