Personal fall protection is a type of protection which is entirely reliant on the user, available in either ‘fall arrest’ or ‘fall restraint’ form. Examples include lifeline systems and anchors.
Personal fall protection is different to collective protection, such as guardrail or barriers, as it requires user participation. In other words the user has to clip on with a harness or interact with it in any way for it to be effective.
Though the work at height hierarchy of control states that collective protection is preferable to personal, personal protection systems can be a highly effective form of safety equipment when employed correctly and properly maintained.
In this article, we try to answer some of the most common questions asked about personal fall protection.
What are the types of personal fall protection?
The most common forms of fall protection consist of a harness, a lanyard and an anchor point, either a fixed anchor point such as an eyebolt, or a lifeline system which allows for greater movement.
Netting is also considered a personal fall protection system, though it comes with a whole host of dangers and is not regularly recommended except for very specific circumstances.
What is the difference between fall arrest and fall restraint?
Essentially, fall restraint systems employ an anchor point with a fixed length lanyard to prevent you from reaching a fall risk. Fall arrest systems look similar, but protect you after you fall and stop you before you hit the surface. These include a shock absorber to reduce the effect of the sudden stop on the body. Fall arrest devices should not be used without a rescue plan in place and appropriate training.
Fall arrest has the advantage of allowing unrestricted movement however fall restraint should always be the preferred option wherever possible.
When is it preferable to collective?
Collective protection is more often than not a better solution according to the hierarchy of control, however personal fall protection equipment does have its place. For example, you may have an area where it is not practicable to install guardrail, perhaps due to lack of space, but access is still required due to maintenance.
Do I need to have it inspected or recertified?
Yes. Several standards, including the Work at Height Regulations and BS 7883, as well as BS EN 365 and BS 8437, state that it is a legal requirement that fall protection systems – including personal systems – are inspected and tested least once a year by a competent safety specialist.
The amount of moving parts make personal fall protection far more prone to failure than collective systems, and it is recommended you have them recertified every six months. Systems should always be inspected thoroughly before each use.
If you are in any doubt that equipment is no longer safe to use, you should take it out of service and replace it immediately.
Who can use it?
Only those who are fully trained in the use of the specific system and deemed competent should ever be allowed to access a roof using it. This training should include information on how to select the correct solution for the work as well as correct pre-use checks.
Users should not only be trained in the use of the system, but also be able to properly inspect it, as well as how to carry out a rescue should it be necessary. Regular refresher training should also be undertaken to ensure knowledge is kept up to date.
Do I need to do a risk assessment?
Yes. You should always carry out a risk assessment before any dangerous work, including work at height, as well as during with the use of a dynamic risk assessment. Using personal fall protection systems instead of collective systems requires far more comprehensive planning and preparation. Alongside the risk assessment, if you are using fall arrest, you should also have a rescue plan in place to recover the worker should a fall occur.