What’s the Difference Between Passive & Active Fall Protection?

Employees falling is the number one cause of fatal construction injuries. It’s no surprise, then, that fall protection citations are the most common violations of OSHA safety standards. In order to maintain a safe and compliant workplace, employers need to understand and properly implement fall protection measures. It’s therefore important to identify the differences between passive fall protection and active fall protection and know how to determine which system best addresses the fall hazards in your work environment.

Passive Fall Protection: Preventing Falls

Passive Fall Protection railingsOnce installed, a passive fall protection system is stationary and non-dynamic, meaning that it doesn’t move, adapt, or change when in or out of use. No human interaction is required for the system to serve its purpose of preventing a fall. As a result, workers don’t need to wear additional fall protection equipment in order to stay safe. Common types of passive fall protection systems include:

  • Aerial lifts and platforms
  • Handrails and guardrails
  • Safety netting
  • Barricades
  • Scaffolding


Simplicity: Passive fall protection systems are easy to install and maintain.
No training needed: Since passive fall protection systems are always in place and don’t require any worker engagement, there’s a significantly lower risk of user error. You don’t need to be trained on how to use guardrails or safety netting in order to benefit from them.
Fall prevention: It’s much safer to prevent a fall as opposed to minimizing the effects of a fall that’s already occurred.


Impractical for some applications: Passive fall protection is ideal for architectural designs and stable work environments, such as a non-penetrating railing system on a roof. If a work area is constantly changing, then installing a passive system may not be practical or cost-effective.
Limits access to work site: Some passive fall protection systems, such as guardrails, can prevent workers from performing necessary tasks in hard-to-reach places.

Active Fall Protection: Stopping Falls

Active fall protection systemActive fall protection systems can be implemented when passive fall protection isn’t feasible. They are dynamic, contain moving parts, and require human interaction. In order for an active system to keep workers safe, they must wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). An active fall protection system includes the following movable components:

  • Overhead rigid rail
  • Anchorage points
  • Full-body harness
  • Lifelines and lanyards (self-retracting and shock-absorbing)
  • Connectors (snap hooks and carabiners)
  • Deceleration devices

Types of active fall protection systems include work positioning systems, vertical fall protection systems, and horizontal fall protection systems. Read our blog to learn more about the types of active fall protection.

Personal Fall Restraint vs. Personal Fall Arrest

There are two subcategories of active fall protection: fall restraint and fall arrest systems. A personal fall restraint system restrains a worker from reaching a fall hazard leading edge. A short, fixed-length lanyard is attached to the worker’s body harness to prevent him from getting too close to the edge of a roof or from falling out of an aerial lift basket, for example. This method of active fall protection is preferred because it is a preventive measure.

A personal fall arrest system incorporates four critical components—anchorage, full-body harness, lanyard, and connectors—to safely decelerate and halt a free-falling worker before he impacts a surface below. This active fall protection system is required on construction sites where workers are exposed to vertical drops of 6 feet or more. Employers should inform their workers about how the fall arrest equipment will affect their bodies if triggered by a fall and have a retrieval system in place for emergency rescue should a fall occur.


Flexible applications: Since active fall protection systems are adaptable, they can be implemented in a variety of industrial and construction settings with ease.
Allows greater access to work site: Workers can safely navigate more dangerous or hazardous areas of a work site while wearing active fall protection equipment.


Requires training: In order for active fall protection to adequately protect workers, they must understand how to use the equipment properly. For instance, workers need to know how to wear their harness the right way and to which anchorage point it should be attached. Using active fall protection improperly increases the risk of injury.
Equipment must pass regular inspections: Active fall protection system components must be structurally sound at all times to ensure worker safety. The equipment must be up-to-date with OSHA standards and be free of visible damage such as tears or cracks in order to pass safety inspections.

Choose Americrane and Hoist Corp. for Reliable Fall Protection Equipment

Americrane and Hoist Corp. is your number one choice for fall protection equipment. The 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 the products we stock is built with the highest quality of craftsmanship, a testament to our keen focus on worker safety. Contact us today for more information on our selection of fall protection equipment products.

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