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Difference between Passive and Active Fall Protection

Active Fall Protection - EDGE Fall Protection

There are two different types of fall protection that can be implemented to meet OSHA requirements: passive fall protection or active fall protection.

Passive Fall Protection

Passive fall protection is a system that is stationary, non-dynamic, and requires no human interaction to support itself or serve its purpose.  Most often, passive fall protection takes the form of a guardrail or a netting system where frequent access or use occurs. This is especially true in a roof hatch safety situation.  The simplicity of these systems, especially the guardrail, make it an appealing option.  Since the systems are always in place and require no worker engagement, there are fewer opportunities for user error.  Non-penetrating roof railing systems are an especially appealing safety option for many users as it meets all OSHA guardrail requirements, it is simple to install, and it avoids expensive roof penetrations. Unfortunately, passive fall protection systems are not always feasible or practical in every working environment.  For these scenarios, active fall protection systems can be implemented.

Active Fall Protection

Active fall protection systems are dynamic: they require the use of equipment specifically designed to prevent a fall from occurring or restricting a worker’s ability to place him or herself in a free fall.  With an active system, a worker dons a harness connected to an anchored point via a lanyard.  While individual parts of an active fall protection system are regularly sold as separate components, each part is equally important.  The “chain is only as strong as its weakest link” idea applies to all active fall systems: if one component of the system fails, the whole system fails.  This is why each part of the active fall protection system is required to meet certain standards and should be regularly checked to ensure all parts are functioning safely and in accordance with manufacturer’s requirements.

There are two subcategories of an active fall system: fall restraint and fall arrest

  • Fall restraint limits the ability of workers to place themselves in a scenario where they can fall off an elevated work area.  This means that the lanyard connected to an individual will not allow that person the clearance to pass a threshold where he or she could free fall off a leading edge.
  • The fall arrest system is designed to stop an individual from hitting the ground in the event of a free fall.  The full body harness that should be worn for fall arrest systems should evenly distribute the force of the fall throughout the body.  Of course, when a person does fall from an elevated platform, steps must be taken to retrieve the individual.  A retrieval plan must be in place before implementing a fall arrest system to ensure, in the event of a fall, measures can be taken quickly and effectively to remove the person from hazardously being suspended in the air.

There are a number of systems that can be designed depending on each different working environment. Choosing the best solution should involve a conversation with users and managers and should be in accordance with your company’s safety railing plan or standard operating guidelines or procedures.

For questions, please reach out to the EDGE Fall Protection team!

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OSHA Fall Protection Information –