A personal fall arrest system (PFAS) is required by OSHA for workers who are exposed to vertical drops of six feet or more while performing their duties. OSHA standard 1926.502 covers fall protection system criteria and practices for construction. However, fall arrest systems are important in other industries, including painting, roofing, mining, and electrical utility repair. A fall from any distance, even a short one, can result in long-term debilitating or fatal injuries.
When implementing fall arrest systems, regardless of the industry it is important to understand the ABCs of personal fall arrest systems:
- A stands for Anchorage. The anchor point (or tie-off point) that secures connecting devices should be attached to a stable, substantial structure and must support either twice the intended load or 5,000 pounds per worker. The locations of anchors should be planned before work even begins. In the event of a fall, anchorage will suspend a worker and prevent them from hitting the ground. If the anchor point is positioned directly above the worker, this will also prevent a pendulum effect from occurring, an effect which may lead to injuries despite the fall arrest.
- B is for Body harness. A full-body harness is required for PFAS and includes pads, webbing, and hardware. Padding ensures a comfortable fit and should be easy to adjust, while the webbing should meet the ANSI standard of 5,000 pounds tensile strength. This equipment should also resist natural weather elements and toxic chemical splashes or fumes.
- C is for Connectors. A connecting device such as a shock-absorbing lanyard or retractable lifeline and its connectors are used to link the anchor system and the full-body harness. Connectors include rope grabs, D-rings, snap hooks, and carabiners. No matter the type of connector, it must have a minimum tensile strength of 5,000 pounds.
A PFAS is composed of these three major components. Together, they provide maximum protection and each is unable to accomplish this alone. In combination they’re a vital aspect to safety on the jobsite. Remember: fall protection culture begins with the ABCs.
Fall arrest systems should be part of any fall protection program and used with oversight from a competent person. A competent person is someone who is well informed of standards, able to identify hazards, and has the authority to correct those hazards. All workers should be trained by a competent person, and need to undergo training again every time there are changes to the worksite that impact the setup, planning, or use of fall protection equipment.
Fall arrest system products are easy to use and inexpensive, yet they bring a great return on investment. When used correctly, PFASs can save lives and ensure safety in the workplace. The above is a general guideline with key points highlighted; for a complete list of requirements, consult OSHA standard 1926.502.