PPE for Fall Protection

PPE for fall restraint vs fall arrest – what is the difference? October 2020

Fall restraint is also known as fall prevention and the PPE associated with this form of fall protection is different to that used for fall arrest. The terms “restraint” and “prevention” describes the approach to safety with the understanding that prevention is the better option when compared to fall arrest.

Fall arrest equipment is commonly used by persons exposed to the actual risk of falling from heights and the design of this type of PPE assumes that the person is quite likely to fall, therefore the physical injuries to that person must be minimised as far as possible. These persons normally wear full body harnesses equipped with special lanyards that have built-in decelerators. The decelerator is normally a folded length of stretchable webbing that is encapsulated in a plastic sheath.

When a fall occurs and tension is applied to the decelerator, the sheath ruptures (in a controlled manner) and the folded/compressed webbing is released from the sheath under a certain degree of resistance thus slowing the falling person down just enough to ensure that the force on the person does not exceed the allowable limit of deceleration. This limit is set at 6kN

Fall restraint equipment does not do this. It prevents the fall by restraining the movement of the person. Typically this type of restraint is used in mobile elevating platforms (MEWPs) and suspended access platforms (TSPs and BMUs) and should also be used in all applications where a worker must be prevented from falling such as persons working of roofs or moving along ledges.

The risk assessment and fall protection plan will determine which type of PPE should be worn. This risk assessment must be done for every different site and for every different task that is to be performed.

Fall Protection

Types of fall protection systems and equipment to be considered (extracted from BS 8437:2005)

If, after the hazard identification and risk assessment, and with due consideration of the hierarchy of protective measures , it is decided that it is necessary to choose personal fall protection equipment, it is then necessary to choose the correct type of personal fall protection system and equipment to be used.

The types of personal fall protection systems and equipment available are as follows.

a)   Restraint (travel restriction) systems and equipment, which restrict the user’s travel so that access is not possible to zones where the risk of a fall from a height exists.

b)   Work positioning systems and equipment, which enable the user to be held in a partly or entirely supported position.

c)   Rope access systems, which employ two separately secured lines, one as the means of support and the other as a safety back-up, both lines being attached to the user’s harness.

NOTE Rope access systems can be used for work positioning.

d)   Fall arrest systems and equipment, which act to arrest a fall, and which are used in situations where, if the user loses controlled physical contact with the working surface, there will be a free fall.

Limits of equipment use

It is essential that limits of equipment use are observed.

  • Equipment designed exclusively for restraint should not be used for work positioning or as fall arrest equipment.
  • Equipment designed exclusively for work positioning should not be used as fall arrest equipment.

It should be noted however, that some equipment is designed to be multi-purpose, e.g. for both work positioning and fall arrest, or to allow the attachment or connection of other components in order to meet the requirements for a category of work other than the one for which it was primarily designed.

There are some notable differences between restraint systems and other personal fall protection systems. These include the following.

  • The only fall that can occur using a restraint system is a “fall on the same level” i.e. a trip or slip resulting in the user falling onto the surface on which they were standing.
  • The force experienced by a user connected to a restraint system and the force at the anchor are likely never to exceed the equivalent of twice the mass of the user.
  • No rescue provisions are normally needed with a restraint system.

The table below illustrates the hierarchy of protective measures in a work at height environment.

Priority Category of Equipment Collective Fall Protection. Offers the highest level of protection Personal Fall Protection. Offers the lowest level of protection
Highest level of protection Work equipment which prevents a fall from heights Guardrails, Screens, Barricades, Parapet Walls, Balustrades Full body harnesses with short restraint lanyards
  Work equipment minimising fall height and consequence of fall Safety nets at high level Soft landing systems close to work position Rope access, work positioning and or fall arrest systems with decelerators
Lowest level of protection Work equipment that does neither i.e. lean-to ladders and step ladders Instruction, training and supervision of users to minimise the risk of falling https://www.altramed.co.za/health-and-safety-courses/work-at-heights-training/ Instruction, training and supervision of users to minimise the risk of falling https://www.altramed.co.za/health-and-safety-courses/work-at-heights-training/

For more information refer to the definition of “fall arrest equipment” and “fall prevention equipment” in Construction Regulations 2014.

For professionally designed fall protection systems see https://www.wahs.co.za/

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