Fall arrest v fall restraint

Posted 28 Nov 2018

The work at height hierarchy of control says that, wherever possible, you should avoid working at height, with collective fall protection such as guardrails and barriers as your backup if this is not possible.

Sometimes, however, guardrails and barriers aren’t ‘reasonably practicable’, and another option must be considered. This other option is personal fall protection, in the form of systems such as horizontal lifelines or portable anchor points.

These systems might be used in both ‘fall restraint’ and ‘fall arrest’ positions. But what’s the difference?

Fall restraint

As the name suggests, a fall restraint system will restrain you from falling. By making use of a body holding device such as a harness and lanyard connected to an anchor point, you will be physically restrained from approaching an area where there is a fall risk.

Fall restraint may also be colloquially referred to as ‘work restraint’ or simply ‘restraint’.

Due to the lower risk of possible injury, fall restraint is the preferred option against fall arrest according to the hierarchy of controls. It is also generally more cost effective due to the absence of shock absorbers and perhaps most importantly, does not require a rescue plan, though you do have to consider evacuation in case of emergency.

Quite often you will find that fall restraint is the only feasible option due to low building height, vehicles, racking and machinery reducing fall distance.

Fall arrest

Fall arrest refers to systems which serve to protect you should a fall occur. These systems do not prevent you from approaching and entering an area where there is a fall risk, but will activate if you do happen to fall, preventing you from hitting the ground.

Fall arrest systems also feature harnesses, lanyards and anchor points, but their main feature is the shock absorbers incorporated into the system, which serve to slow your fall and limit the force applied to the anchor points, as well as limiting any damage to your body due to gravity.

Which is best?

It depends on your situation and the area in which you will be working.

If the roof surface is fragile, for example if it contains roof lights or the roof surface is an older type, or if you are on a narrow ledge, fall arrest will likely be the way to go. In situations like this, you cannot be confident about when and where you might fall. More people fall through fragile roofs than over the edge.

If you are working on a more secure roof, with a larger working area, and if you have no need to approach the edge, then fall restraint should suit your needs.

Whatever the system you choose, it is vital that you or your workers use the correct PPE, and that you have the correct training. You should also ensure that all workers are competent, as this is a hugely important factor in ensuring that the work can be carried out safely.

If you choose to go with a fall arrest system, ensure that you have a rescue plan in place, which will ensure anyone who falls can be retrieved as quickly as possible. And with both systems, a full risk assessment and analysis of the situation should be carried out for every aspect of the work before the work itself begins, which will reduce the chances of serious injuries, or worse, occurring.

For more information about fall arrest or fall restraint, or to enquire about our systems, you can either call us on 01473 834 144 or use our online contact form.

by Carolyn Campbell

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