What are the Key Differences Between a Fall Arrest and Fall Restraint System?
Fall arrest and fall restraint safety systems are very similar, yet have one important distinction between the two. If misunderstood the result could be devastating. What is the key difference between fall arrest and fall restraint?
A fall arrest system will stop you in the process of a fall, while a fall restraint system will keep you from reaching the edge, not allowing you to fall. Both systems are forms of active fall protection but have very different uses in real-life applications. Let's dive a little deeper into what this means.
What is a Fall Arrest System?
A fall arrest safety system typically includes an anchor point or series of anchor points, a safety lanyard or self-retracting lifeline, and a harness. This system must be designed to “arrest” or stop you before hitting the lower surface in the case of a fall. This gives you the freedom to walk all the way up to a fall hazard to do your work.
As an example, let's say you are unloading a flatbed truck or working on railcars, your walking/working surface is so narrow that any system that wouldn’t allow you near the edge would limit your movement. Where you need full access to your working surface, fall arrest is typically your better option.
Ascending and descending a fixed ladder is another great example of when fall arrest systems are effective. There is no way to completely eliminate the possibility of falling when climbing a ladder. In this case, the safety system that is implemented must be able to catch you in the case of a slip or fall.
What is a Fall Restraint System?
While utilizing many of the same elements, a fall restraint safety system keeps you from getting close enough to the fall hazard to fall. Imagine a leash keeping you within a safe distance from the edge. You are free to do your work without concern of falling and possibly injuring yourself because you are unable to reach the drop.
Fall restraint systems also include an anchor point, some type of lanyard, and proper Personal Protective Equipment or PPE which in this case would be a safety harness. These systems are great when you have wide open-rooftops or platforms without any work needing to be done near the fall hazard. The hazard could be a skylight, unprotected rooftop hatch, or the edge of the building/platform.
What Makes These Active Fall Protection?
Regardless of using a fall arrest or fall restraint system, both are categorized under active fall protection safety systems.
An active fall protection system is one that requires you, the user, to interact with the system to be engaged safely. Examples of this would be attaching to a horizontal lifeline, clipping onto an anchor point, even using a ladder safety system while climbing. There is an action required of you to be safe while working at heights.
Which is Safer, Fall Arrest or Fall Restraint?
There are many circumstances where you are forced to use fall arrest or fall restraint. However, in a scenario where you can choose between the two, which is the safer option?
Working from a position that eliminates the ability to fall will always be a safer option. If the conditions allow, working in fall restraint is always preferred. It is not for lack of safety and engineering built into the fall arrest systems, but for the potential for injuries that can occur during the arresting process.
Falling hurts, no matter what safety measures are put into place. The reality is that falls are unpredictable. You could fall backwards, forwards, trip, slip, be twisted in a knot, or be jumping! Any twisting, swinging or landing awkwardly can cause injuries due to the hundreds of pounds of force impacting your body.
It is imperative to always be up to date with your training if working at heights. You should have a strong and comfortable understanding of all aspects of an active fall protection system, everything from the anchor point to the harness. It is also important to always have a rescue plan in place if you are using a fall arrest system.
Both fall arrest and fall restraint systems have their application in the workplace. Fall arrest systems may save your life, but there is no guarantee that it will eliminate injuries. Fall restraint will limit your movement, but likely reduce the possibility of injury. If given the option, always select the option that will eliminate you from reaching the hazard.