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The Hierarchy of Fall Protection

OSHA guidelines on fall protection are centered around the idea that some situations require different types of fall protection systems. This way of thinking about situations from most dangerous to least dangerous is called the “hierarchy of fall protection.” It’s a great way to think about what types of fall protection solutions work best.

Here’s how to apply the fall protection hierarchy controls to determine what solutions your job site needs.

Hazard Elimination

Good ol’ Benny Franklin once said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Who knew that we’d be using his words of wisdom today to guide fall protection? The number one way to reduce fall hazards is to eliminate them. For example, specifying HVAC equipment to be located on the ground rather than by the edge of a roof is one example of hazard elimination.

This gold standard is easiest to implement in a totally new work environment. But it’s not always realistic. For example, there are hazards like skylights (see our other BLOG about skylight safety here) that can’t be eliminated. If you’re not able to implement hazard elimination, move on to the next level of the hierarchy.

Passive Fall Protection

Passive fall protection solutions include physical barriers, like guardrails, to prevent falls. Some people are surprised to find that passive fall protection is above active fall protection systems in the fall protection hierarchy. However, passive fall protection is considered a superior option because there’s less chance of error than with personal protective equipment (PPE).

It makes sense: one guardrail, installed correctly, can protect hundreds of individual workers from a single fall hazard. That certainly beats teaching one hundred workers how to use individual PPE systems correctly!

Many types of fall hazard scenarios can be completely prevented by the installation of a passive fall protection system. But, if the exposure to a fall hazard cannot be mitigated by a passive system, other fall protection options may need to be implemented.

Fall Restraint Systems

Fall restraint systems are one of two types of active fall protection systems. They are individual systems that restrain a worker’s range of motion. Usually, this involves PPE that connects an individual to a lanyard that will not allow him or her to move far enough to reach a leading edge. This option eliminates the worry of a free-fall distance, which also eliminates risks like secondary injuries.

Fall restraint systems are always preferred over fall arrest systems, which is the next level on the hierarchy. They make the worker accessible should an injury occur and prevent any worries about fall distances.

Fall Arrest Systems

Fall arrest systems are the less-preferred of the two different active fall protection systems. With a fall arrest system, a worker faces a higher risk because a fall can still occur. Fall arrest systems aim to minimize the force associated with stopping a fall. However, the worker may still have secondary injuries if they suffer a fall while using a fall arrest system.

Fall arrest systems may not be the top way to prevent falls, but they can still be effective. The key to making fall arrest systems a safe option is to train workers on how to use their fall protection PPE correctly. Without training, workers may use gear incorrectly, putting them at greater risk.

Administrative Controls

The very bottom of the fall protection hierarchy is administrative controls. These are work practices and procedures that are meant to give workers a “heads up” about a hazard. However, they do not provide any physical means of protection or prevention.

Administrative controls like warning lines, safety monitors, and control lines are best when used in combination with other fall protection methods. By themselves, administrative controls are easy to overlook, which is why they are considered the least effective fall protection method.


Using the Fall Protection Hierarchy

The fall protection hierarchy of controls is a great tool to use when you are identifying and prioritizing your fall protection needs. Contact EDGE Fall Protection to help you determine the best fall protection solutions and to find customized packages to meet your needs.

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