How do fall arrest systems work?


For those in the construction or roofing trades who work at a substantial height, the threat of injury or death due to a fall is very real. Because of this, fall arrest systems were developed to stop at-risk workers in mid-fall, securing them before they hit the ground.

A fall arrest system is generally made up of several parts, including a body harness and one or more anchored lifelines, plus some form of deceleration technology or device. Many different configurations exist, but these components are crucial. Most systems are made from highly tested materials that can bear considerable weight as well as resist fraying, tearing, or coming unfastened.

In some way, these systems are similar to mountain climbing safety gear, anchored to the building instead of to the mountain. The devises that are used to connect the body harness to the safety lines are of similar design in some cases, resembling load-bearing carabiners. Other common options to go with the basic components, like these, include rope grabs and beam wraps, offering additional safety options to the overall fall arrest system.

These systems generally allow for a full range of motion and are considered lightweight. Many are made from treated nylon or other highly durable synthetic materials. Vest and crossover styles are popular configurations for the body harness, with cross-body varieties generally geared toward those workers who will be climbing or descending, not just concerned about accidental falls.

Some harnesses are designed with different industries of uses in mind, including ones that allow for controlled descent or for retrieval. Many of these are more complex and may even include a tool belt in the design. For electrical workers, harnesses designed for use around high-voltage electrical currents are available.

The harness fit is important as well for arresting the fall in the best way possible. The body harness must be snug fitting, not loose, but shouldn't feel binding to the worker wearing it. The best units are highly adjustable for a wide range of sizes and body types.

The body harness should never be modified due to risk of compromising its integrity. If the fit is poor, it is necessary to choose a different size or configuration to get the best performance from the harness and connected system. The unit should be checked and adjusted with each wear as part of regular safety protocols for using a fall arrest system.

Working together, all of these components ensure that the worker will receive far less serious injuries than a worker falling without protective gear would experience. In general, some bruising and soreness are the most common results from a successfully arrested fall.

In 2005, approximately 469 fatal falls were recorded in the construction industry, making it one of the leading hazards associated with the sector. The number of falls prevented by fall arrest systems has not been recorded or analyzed; however, few construction sites that use them are without stories of the lives they have saved.

In conjunction with standard fall prevention protocols and other safety measures, fall arrest systems can be truly life-saving devices and enable workers to do their jobs with less personal risk.