The ABCs of Fall Protection: The Essentials of Fall Safety
September 12, 2022
Fall safety doesn’t need to be complicated. All sorts of people strap themselves into a harness every day, and they each need to be able to master the same essentials: the ABCs of Fall Protection.
The ABCs of fall protection turned, through time and repetition, into fairly standard industry lingo. If you’ve been around long enough, chances are good that you’ve seen them printed on a poster at least once.
This shorthand serves an important purpose: essential knowledge reaches the workers who need it in a digestible, memorable mnemonic.
Naturally, the drawback is that the ABCs of fall protection tend to only skim the surface. There’s so much more to know about anchorages, body supports, and connectors in all their different forms and functions.
Here, we want the best of both worlds: a basic primer that will give workers a handy at-a-glance reference followed by a more in depth look at each category so you can empower your workers to know fall protection basics inside and out.
Because when your workers become experts in fall protection, safety becomes a natural part of your workplace culture, and everyone benefits from that.
What are the ABCs of Fall Protection?
The ABCs of fall protection cover the three basics every fall protection system needs:
Anchorage connects the fall protection system to ground through a frame or pole. In a rescue situation, you are pulled out of the confined space towards the anchorage.
Body Support is what allows workers to attach themselves to the fall protection system. It’s the harness that clips on to the line and applies lifting pressure to the body.
Connection is the rope or cable line that links the anchorage and the body support. In a rescue, it is what pulls you up toward the anchorage.
That’s it, on the most basic level: a device to anchor you to safe ground, a harness to hold your body, and a connection between the two.
What, then are the different options that exist within the ABCs of fall protection? Let’s take a closer look.
Your anchorage is, on its face, the most complicated of the ABCs of fall protection. While body supports and connecting lines are more complex than meets the eye, the numerous configurations and workings of your anchorage present the most variables.
Your anchorage may be permanently mounted if you work in a facility or worksite with a known, unchanging fall hazard. This might be a workstation located on a walkway, over a vat, or any drop of four feet or more.
Permanently mounted fall protection setups (such as our Permanent Base Davit System) are usually broken up into two main parts for the sake of space and convenience: the permanent base mounted in or to the floor or wall, and the pole, elbow, and arm of the unit.
Every shift, deploying the fall protection unit then should be the first item on the to-do list of those working on the elevated workstation. As long as someone is working on that elevated workstation, they need to be hooked into the anchorage.
Of course, guardrails and toe guards also serve for fall prevention purposes in these situations, but they lack fall arrest or recovery capabilities.
Here’s how we’re breaking down these different kinds of fall protection:
Fall prevention: is anything that stops falls from happening in the first place such as guardrails, manhole barriers, and the like.
Fall arrest: is any system meant to sense and stop a fall in progress. A 3-Way Self-Retracting Lifeline (SRL), for example, applies brakes to its drum when there’s a sudden jerk on the rope.
Fall recovery: transports fallen workers to safety, allowing first aid and emergency response when necessary. Not all fall arrest systems feature built-in fall recovery capabilities.
Many workers require fall protection in the field, which means that a single, permanently mounted anchorage is of no use to them. Fortunately for those workers, there are a number of portable anchorage options.
Whether you’re relying on our LifeGuard™, Portable Base Davit, or Vehicle Hitch Mounted Davit, the function is the same: the attached worker’s weight pulls down on the frame which braces it against the ground, allowing the worker to be pulled up.
Leveling feet on the base of the LifeGuard™ and Portable Base Davit frames are adjusted to steady the unit on the ground for safe and even anchorage. The vehicle–mounted Davit uses a work truck hitch to apply this same principle.
Another semi-permanent option can be found in our Uni-Lite Fall Arrest Post. The post is positioned over the confined space, and the up to three workers’ lines can be tied to the anchorage at the top.
The fall arrest post can be used with both permanent and portable bases, and the carbon fiber construction flexes like a fishing pole, slowing and arresting falls.
It’s a convenient, low-profile, and highly effective tool for fall arrest, but you need to use a separate anchorage system for fall recovery.
The “B” in the ABCs of fall protection is all about your harness (but the “AHCs of fall protection” is nothing, so “body support” it is).
A cursory search for fall protection harnesses may end up leading you to manufacturers dedicated not to industrial safety, but mountain climbing.
While industrial fall protection shares a common history with climbing safety gear, it’s important not to confuse the two.
Climbing harnesses come in many shapes, belts and seat harnesses among them. For workers, however, there is only one acceptable configuration: the full-body harness.
Other options don’t evenly distribute the worker’s weight, and an unconscious or otherwise limp worker being pulled along a belt or seat harness may suffer additional injuries when being hoisted up by their waist.
A full-body harness for industrial fall protection primarily uses a dorsal D-ring to hook the worker into the fall protection system. Positioned at the center of the worker’s back, this means the worker is safely lifted by their center of weight.
Just because there is only one harness shape for industrial fall protection doesn’t mean that you’re limited to only one option within that category.
Welding harnesses are made with flame-retardant and non-conductive material, so the arc or fire of a torch won’t damage the harness’ integrity. There are also high-visibility harnesses and others with D-rings on the chest or multiple D-rings.
As with every other piece of equipment, your harness must be subjected to a thorough inspection prior to each use. If you need a checklist for these inspections, we have one for you right here.
The tether linking the harness and the anchorage, connecting lines are the C in the ABCs of fall protection. Given how important they are, that “C” can also stand for “crucial” and “critical.”
Inspection is crucial with these lines and should be conducted before each use. Any damage to the line could affect its integrity. If there’s any doubt about your line, remove it from service.
Pelsue lines are made from either stainless steel or Technora® rope, both of which are tested thoroughly to ensure their dependability in the field. We’ve previously gone in depth on the major differences between the two.
Aside from the simple tie-off of the Uni-Lite Fall Arrest Pole, your connecting line will be a part of either one of two devices: a hoist or an SRL.
Hoists are the simpler of the two, made to raise or lower workers to safety by turning a crank. Your hoist will be mounted to the frame of your anchorage and detached when the frame is taken down.
Pelsue SRLs come in two flavors: standard and 3-Way. The Standard SRL only arrests a fall, 3-Way SRLs also include raising and lowering capabilities. Both SRLs can be attached to an overhead anchorage point on your LifeGuard™ or Davit.
Beyond the ABCs of Fall Protection
There’s so much more to fall protection than is covered in the ABCs. While they’re an undoubtedly useful tool for teaching the basics that workers need to know, to make true safety experts out of each of them, you must go deeper.
Knowing your equipment inside and out, thoroughly and regularly inspecting them, and openly asking questions and communicating safety concerns are all important steps to make your workplace safer.
We hope that our guide has begun to point you in the right direction. Safety is our mission, and if your workplace is safer because of us, we are proud to have helped.
When are employers required to install fall protection measures?
Employers are required to install fall protection measures whenever workers are exposed to fall hazards. When a worker is doing their job at a height of four feet or more above the ground, fall protection is needed.
How severe is a four foot fall, really?
A 200-pound person falling just four feet could generate 1,600 pounds of force by the time they hit the ground. Thousands are injured every year in workplace falls, and hundreds are killed.
What do I do if a piece of fall protection equipment is damaged?
Remove it from service immediately. Some of these faults can be repaired, others require the wholesale replacement of the unit. Contact the manufacturer or distributor for more information.