Tie Down Blog

The Difference Between Active and Passive Fall Protection

What is Fall Protection?

A fall protection system protects workers from falling and other serious injuries on the job.

A better question would be: Why is fall protection important?

Falls act as the number one cause of serious work related injuries and deaths in the workplace.

Employers hold the responsibility of preventing employees from being injured at work. This also includes protection from falls in the workplace as well. Examples of areas that require types of active fall protection include platforms, elevated work sites, or into holes in the floor or wall.

Employers need to keep their workers safe as well as provide a safety first culture within the organization.

Examples of environments that require this include:

What Does OSHA Require?

OSHA requires every workplace involving elevation to execute a fall safety program. The type of program depends on a number of factors. The overall mindset is to think about fall hazards before the work starts. The employer must manage fall hazards and focus on fall prevention efforts.
OSHA requires fall protection as different ellevations, depending on the conditions of working environments or job sites.

The requirements extend beyond the elevation but OSHA’s standards emphasize workplace safety for employees.

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.

Employers still hold the responsibility to provide fall prevention systems like guardrails, toeboards, stair rails, an anchorage point, or a safety harness and lanyard.

Hierarchy of Fall Protection

The hierarchy of fall prevention lists four main methods of fall protection. When preventing falls, the hierarchy starts with the preferred solution to the least preferred. However, each method holds their individual benefits. 

1. Removing Hazards
This preferred method is most effective and useful during the planning stage. Determining the need for changes in a procedure, practice, location, or equipment helps eliminate fall hazard exposure.

2. Passive Fall Protection System
This method provides a higher level of safety because of the fewer opportunities for human error. This system protects all employees, not just the workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).

3. Fall Restraint System (Active)
This system is made to prevent a fall from occurring. An employee wears PPE but the restraint characteristic means the employee physically cannot meet the leading or unprotected edge. Because of this, fall restraint is the preferred system for fall mitigation over fall arrest.

4. Fall Arrest System (Active)
Sometimes meeting the leading edge is impossible to avoid. This circumstance requires a fall arrest system. This method’s design “arrests” or stops a fall within acceptable force and fall distance. The design’s purpose means a worker’s life is saved in the unfortunate event of a fall.

Note: Additional training and higher competency is required for both fall restraint and fall arrest systems. Check with your local jurisdiction for exact heights and requirements, as they vary.

What are Examples of Passive Fall Protection?

If fall hazards can not be completely removed, passive fall protection becomes the next best option. This system is non-dynamic, fixed in one spot, and does not change when used. A benefit to this type of fall protection is the lack of human interaction. It functions as needed without a worker.

These devices usually come into play in more stable, unchanging work areas, like a rooftop bearing passive systems for future maintenance work.

The only time someone physically interacts with this system is during installation or, unfortunately, when a fall occurs near an edge. However, passive protection offers no moving parts and is consistently ready to stop a fall.

Common systems include:

What are Examples of Active Fall Protection?

When an employer decides to employ an active fall protection system, specific fall protection equipment and protocol are required.

According to the fall safety hierarchy, active fall protection is the last choice when choosing a fall safety program. It involves the most collaboration between employers and employees and offers the most risk of falling.

An active system moves and requires cooperation from a worker. The employee must agree to wearing the full body harness, connect to the anchor point, and cooperate with proper training. These devices usually come into play when work areas change often, like the construction of a new building.

Active fall protection systems are dynamic and require special equipment and participation of employees. Active fall protection falls into two categories. The difference between fall restraint and arrest lies in the worker’s working distance from a leading or unprotected edge.

1. Fall Restraint
A worker cannot reach an edge because the PPE restricts the worker’s range of movement from doing so.

2. Fall Arrest
A worker works on an unprotected or leading edge but the PPE arrests a possible fall within acceptable force and clearance requirements.

Every method of fall prevention assists in keeping a worksite compliant and minimizing the injury risk. Each system offers benefits since not every working situation can completely avoid work around an edge. Because every job site is different, understanding and planning for possible risks acts as a vital part of fall protection! Tie Down’s Safety and Roofing division offer a comprehensive range of both active and passive fall protection systems.