Fall protection equipment can mean the difference between life and death. Falls from heights are the leading cause of construction-worker fatalities. In this industry alone, hundreds of lives are lost and hundreds of thousands of serious injuries occur every year.


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These incidents amount to more than half of all on-the-job fatal falls in the United States. Such tragedies can be prevented by committing to a fall prevention program. For construction workers, roofers, utility line workers, tree trimmers, and other workers who perform jobs in high places, fall prevention often involves a properly deployed fall arrest system.

What Is A Personal Fall Arrest System?

A personal fall arrest system (PFAS) is a combination of equipment that protects a wearer from falling if they lose their footing, grip, or stability when working at potentially dangerous heights.

PFAS equipment will prevent loss of contact with a supporting surface or structure or it arrests the wearer to catch and protect them from the full force of the fall. This system usually consists of a full-body harness (FBH), which is secured around the torso and thighs.

This helps support and stabilize the back, chest, and hips. This type of fall protection harness will include adjustable buckles and straps that are made from strong but comfortable materials.

A fall harness shouldn’t be uncomfortably tight, but it should be securely fitted to ensure proper body support. They will also feature one or multiple connectors. This provides a link for either a lanyard or a self-retracting line.

Harness lanyards are usually short in length, exceeding no more than six feet. They should be made from flexible or wire rope or a webbing strap. In addition to attaching the harness to an anchorage connector, they serve as shock absorbers and/or deceleration device.

Credit: NAVFAC

If a self-retracting line is used instead of a lanyard, this device will automatically take up slack and decelerate a fall by automatically tensioning.

Deceleration and shock absorption are critical to preventing injuries. They greatly reduce the force of a fall and reduce the likelihood of serious spinal and head injury. To complete the system, the lanyard or self-retracting line needs to be attached to an anchorage point that’s able to fully support the weight of the harness wearer at the potential fall distance.

Using A Fall Harness Correctly 

To provide life-saving security, a fall harness—and the fall arrest system in which it’s incorporated—needs to be selected, set up, and used correctly. A fall harness safety system is usually reserved for working conditions that don’t allow for practical or feasible use of other fall protection.

This is why a fall prevention program and all related equipment should be correctly matched to the job and worker requirements.

It’s also necessary to use a fall protection harness and arrest system that meets occupation safety requirements. Not all body harnesses have the same features. For example, a rock climbing harness that fits around the climber’s waist and legs is not a sufficient alternative to a roof safety harness.

While both of these devices are designed to catch a wearer mid-fall, they account for different wearer positions, anchorage methods, and activities that are unique to specific situations and environments.

A complete fall arrest system will need to account for potential fall distance and access to proper anchorage points. It must also ensure completely secure connections between the fall harness, lanyard or retracting line, and the anchorage.

Fall harnesses themselves should be regularly tested and inspected to make sure there’s no damage, faults, or wear to any components. When being worn, the fit of the fall harness should be checked to ensure all strap ends are properly retained by a keeper.

This will prevent the harness from being caught in equipment or becoming an obstacle to the wearer or other workers, as well as accidental disengagement.

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