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Falls cost business owners millions of dollars each year in lost time, compensation and third party lawsuits. However, with the right mix of pre-job planning, proper equipment selection and employee education and training, workers can continue to work at heights while limiting injuries and their associated costs.
A number of nationally recognized standards and legislative requirements govern the use and need for fall protection. Typically, fall protection is required when working six feet above the level or obstruction below, or when a fall from a lesser height may result in a serious injury. There are a number of important ingredients that must be included in any good fall prevention or protection program. These include identification of the fall hazards, implementation of a company policy, selection and use of the proper equipment and/or systems, and an in-depth training program including rescue.

 Fall Prevention

The term fall protection encompasses a broad spectrum of techniques, equipment, and legislation to help minimize injury and damage due to falls. However, where possible, a fall prevention approach should be taken to eliminate the fall altogether. Some examples would include engineering out the hazard by relocating a valve to a more accessible location, using site fall protection systems such as guardrails and floor covers, and implementing Fall Restraint Systems where possible.

 Fall Arrest

Due to feasibility issues, cost and/or time restraints, fall prevention systems cannot always be used. For these situations, a fall arrest system can be used to limit injury to a worker by stopping the fall prior to the worker hitting the level below. Personal fall arrest systems are, at times, much more complex and require more detailed and comprehensive training to be effective and ensure safety. Further, the fall arrest system must limit the forces on the worker to less than 1,800 pounds.

 Fall Protection Basics

All personal fall protection systems will incorporate some form of anchorage, body support and connector(s), and should incorporate a plan for descent/rescue. In addition, there are a number of other factors that must also be considered including freefall and available clearance, anchor location and strength, shock absorption, and potential for swing fall.

 Body Support

The two most common types of body support used in the construction industry include the waist belt and full body harness. Both of these types of body support may be used for work restraint and positioning applications. However, if there is fall potential (fall arrest) then only a full body harness should be used. A waist belt is banned for fall arrest and must not be used as it can cause serious injuries, has the potential to slip off and limits suspension time.

 Full Body Harnesses

The full body harness has significant advantages over waist belts including: prolonged suspension, distribution of impact forces, decreased potential for serious injury, upright suspension and easier rescue. All American National Standards Institute approved full body harnesses must have an attachment point (D-ring) located between the shoulder blades (dorsal location) for use with other fall arrest equipment.

Harness Types

Some harnesses have multiple attachment points for differing applications. Workers and supervisors should be aware that the harness of choice is one that is relatively simple, easy to adjust and causes no confusion regarding the attachment point. Following are the categories of harnesses.

• fall arrest - back dorsal D ring

• controlled descent - front D ring

• confined entry/evacuation - two D rings on shoulder

• ladder climbing - front D ring

• work positioning - two D rings at waist

 Harness Dos and Don’ts


• Adjust the harness to fit snugly. A harness that does not fit snugly can cause serious injury and limit the tolerable suspension time following fall arrest.

• Wear the chest strap. If the chest strap is not done up you may fall out of the harness in a headfirst fall.

• Inspect the harness prior to use. A harness that does not pass the pre-use inspection should not be used.

• Use the keepers to prevent the webbing from sliding through the buckles and to tuck back excess webbing.


• Leave straps dangling or leave the harness partially done up. If the unattached straps are forgotten, they may be caught in machinery or the harness may fall off during fall arrest.

• Use a harness that has been previously used to arrest a fall. It must be discarded following fall arrest.

Donning a Full Body Harness

Lay the harness out on a clean, flat surface to ensure there are no tangles in the webbing and for ease in inspection. Place the shoulder straps on and secure all corresponding buckles. Adjust all straps and buckles so the harness fits snugly, but still allows free movement. Ensure the sub-pelvic strap is just below the buttock and the chest strap is across the chest at nipple height. Slide all keepers to their correct locations. Attach all other fall arrest equipment to the dorsal D-ring on the harness. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s direction for donning your particular harness, as donning procedure may change.

Part II covers connectors and anchors. Reprinted with permission from CNA’s Risk Control Bulletin: Introduction to Fall Protection. For more information, visit www.cna.com.

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