We’ve covered many different types of fall protection systems and their components in this blog, but somewhere along the line, you may have heard the terms “active” and “passive” fall protection systems. Are you aware of what they mean?
A Passive System is much like it sounds – working whether you do something to it or not. A passive system is something that is in place, has no active mechanisms or moving parts, and requires no human interaction in order to function properly once installed. These tend to be your guardrails and netting.
Whether you are “using” a rail or not, it still stands, ready to do its job. Whether you fall into a net or not, it is still there. There is nothing for you to do in order to get them to work. There are no moving parts that are required to be used in order for it to save your life.
Active Systems, like Passive Systems, are just like they sound. They are dynamic. There are mechanisms at work that are protecting your employees’ lives. These systems tend to be your fall arrest and travel restraint systems. These systems involve a harness, some type of lanyard, and an anchor point (and, in the case of fall arrest, the need for a rescue plan). In order for these to work, your employees need to inspect and don equipment, adjust it, tie-off to an anchor point, and make sure they are using the equipment properly. If they fail to perform any of those steps properly, the fall protection may not work as intended.
Active systems tend to be used in lower traffic areas in which passive systems cannot be feasibly installed or that are constantly changing (such as in a construction setting) making something like a railing difficult.
Fall Prevention vs Fall Arrest
Don’t confuse active vs. passive with fall prevention vs. fall arrest. At first glance, it might seem that passive protection is the same as fall prevention and that active prevention is the same as fall arrest, but that doesn’t hold true. While rails (passive) are fall prevention, a net (passive) is fall arrest. While a PFAS comprised of a harness, shock-absorbing lanyard, anchor point (active) is fall arrest, a travel restraint system (active) is fall prevention.
Understanding the industry terminology goes a long way in helping sift through the “noise” of regulations, requirements, policies, and information you are going to have to deal with. Don’t ever assume you know what new terminology means. Seek out what you need to know. Often, a quick search on the internet will give you the full answer (as long as you’re using a reliable source). In other words, be active in increasing your industry knowledge and understanding, not passive!