Fall Restraint Vs. Fall Arrest: How to Decide Which System Is Best for You

When it comes to falling, no one likes to think about the worst-case scenarios. But in many cases, doing so could be the very thing that saves your life. The truth is that falls are the leading cause of death on construction sites, accounting for roughly a third of all construction-related fatalities.

So it’s best to think ahead about height safety and be prepared.

And while not everyone who falls on the job will die, even “minor” falls can cause serious injuries. However, with a good safety plan in place, fall-related workplace injuries and deaths are preventable.

Fall restraint and fall arrest systems can protect you from becoming a statistic.

When it comes to fall restraint vs. fall arrest systems, though, the question isn’t so much which fall prevention system is right overall but which protection equipment is right for the job at hand.

The only wrong fall protection system is no system at all.

What Is a Fall Restraint System?

The use of the term “fall restraint” is actually old language and can cause confusion, since proper use of the system won’t allow for a fall at all. In the most recent update to the OSHA fall protection regulation OSHA actually refers to these systems as “travel restraint”. This change has likewise been made across the industry even with organizations such as ANSI, who facilitate the publication of the Z359 Fall Protection Standard.

A travel restraint system is a type of fall protection that prevents a worker from reaching a fall hazard. For example it may limit the amount of travel a worker has so that they can’t even reach the roof edge. These systems can come in a few different forms, such as a single-point anchorage or a cable lifeline system, which will accommodate lateral movement along the roof.

Travel restraint systems are an excellent choice for fall protection as they eliminate the possibility of a fall and still allow for movement for users to go about their work.

What Is a Fall Arrest System?

A fall arrest system is one that stops the descent of a worker in the event of a fall.

The fall arrest system is carefully designed to prevent death by falling, but only if it is used according to plan.

Swing falls can occur when the system is not anchored directly above the user. The force of striking an object in a pendulum motion can cause serious injury. Always minimize swing falls by working as directly below the anchorage point as possible. It is a good practice not to exceed 15 degrees from the vertical. (Safe Steps)

Even when used according to manufacturer’s guidelines, fall arrest systems are not without their drawbacks. They may prevent immediate death, but someone whose fall is arrested will still very likely suffer pain or complications as a result of an arrested fall.

In an arrested free fall situation, the fall arrest equipment can still harm you in the following ways:

  • Up to 1,200 pounds of force is exerted on your body when your fall is arrested
    Proper circulation to your body will be cut off while you’re hanging in the air, waiting to be pulled back up
  • Blood may pool painfully around your groin
  • Your blood pressure and heart rate will likely spike, then drop
  • You might faint
  • Failure to be extricated within a half an hour could lead to death

Obviously, such a situation is not ideal.

But if the choices are between free falling with no restraints and having your fall arrested in such a way that does not lead to immediate death, a fall arrest system doesn’t sound so bad.

But remember: this is not your only option.

Travel Restraint Vs. Fall Arrest Systems: Key Differences

Travel restraint and fall arrest systems have some key differences. Understanding them can help you choose how to best keep yourself and your crew safe while working at higher levels.

Travel Restraint Vs. Fall Arrest: Which Is Safer?

Given the information discussed above, you can see that travel restraint systems are, on the whole, the safer overall option.

While a fall arrest system will stop you from falling from a great height and being injured or killed, restraint equipment will keep you from even reaching the edge of a drop off — there is never even a chance of a fall to begin with.

All things being equal, a travel restraint system is a much safer option for workers.

Another thing to note is that travel restraint systems are still rated to arrest a fall, so even if the equipment was used incorrectly and a worker was able to reach a fall hazard, their fall would be arrested.

However, it is not always possible to use a fall restraint system in every scenario.

Travel Restraint Vs. Fall Arrest: When Should I Use One or the Other?

While travel restraint systems are inherently safer because they eliminate the risk of a fall in the first place, there are times when only a fall arrest system will work.

Sometimes, it’s not possible to do the work that needs to be done while staying a safe distance from a leading edge. In that case, a fall arrest system will be your best and safest option.

If you can work without needing to approach the leading edge, however, a fall restraint system will definitely keep you safer when working in an elevated area.

To reiterate, the worst choice would be to choose no protection at all. Some sort of fall protection plan is necessary to ensure workers’ safety—and in some cases, only active fall protection will do the trick.

Active vs. Passive Fall Protection

Both fall arrest systems and travel restraint systems are forms of active fall protection. These are referred to as active systems because they involve the active participation of the worker using them. Workers must put on a safety harness or clip themselves to a lifeline or anchor point.

These are opposed to passive fall protection systems, which are set in place and left as stationary protection methods. These systems, when it is appropriate to use them, are the best option for many situations as they work day and night, rain or shine, and the workers don’t need to have special equipment or training to be protected.

Passive fall protection systems include:

  1. Gates
  2. Guardrails
  3. Toe-boards
  4. Covers over holes (such as a skylight screen)
  5. Netting systems

Of course not every situation will allow for the use of a passive fall protection system, however when it can be used it is an excellent choice for protecting workers at height.

The Importance of Active Fall Protection Systems

Fall protection systems should be used by anyone working higher than six feet.

This would include:

  • Overhead platforms
  • Elevated work stations, such as trains, rooftops, tankards, etc.
  • Work sites with holes in the floor or walls

Fall protection systems can minimize the fall risk and prevent serious injuries and even death. They are also required by law, and failure to comply can expose the building owner or employer to serious fines or devastating litigation.

Versatile Systems Can Help

Versatile Systems can not only help you settle the fall restraint vs. fall arrest question, we can also handle every application of your fall protection installation.

Contact us today to learn more about our turnkey fall protection solutions.