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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

Fall protection equipment is most commonly associated with (go figure) saving someone’s life in the event of a fall. But, while this association isn’t necessarily wrong, it isn’t necessarily right either, because the ideal fall protection scenario is one in which equipment saves the worker before a fall occurs.

A keystone of the world of fall protection is what is known as the “Hierarchy of Fall Protection”, which both helps define the various applications in which fall protection equipment is used, as well as prioritizes those applications from most preferred to least preferred.

Concepts such as Fall Restraint, Fall Arrest, and Fall Prevention are common across the industry. Sometimes however, they are treated as equivalent in regards to the level of protection offered to the worker...and they shouldn’t be.

5 Stages of Fall Protection Hierarchy

So what applications make up the fall protection hierarchy? Let’s take a look! Arranged from most preferred to least preferred, we have…

1. Hazard Elimination (Most Preferred - Safest Option!)

The removal of the hazard by means of construction or maintenance. Take, for example, an unfinished window found in a residential construction project. Once the window is finished, the hazard no longer exists! It is always most preferred to do work where there are no fall hazards…it’s just common sense!

2. Fall Prevention 

Equipment that functions to prevent all access to a fall hazard. For example, a guardrail is a physical barrier that stands in between the worker and the fall hazard.

3. Fall Restraint

Equipment is configured to restrain the user from accessing the fall hazard. Here, there is no barrier between the user and the fall hazard, but they are using fall protection equipment that will not allow them to reach the hazard. For example, a worker is working in Fall Restraint if they use a 6’ lanyard to connect to an anchorage connector 7’ away from the fall hazard. The full length of the lanyard will not allow them to reach the hazard.

4. Fall Arrest

Equipment configured to catch the worker in the event of a fall. Finally, we arrive at the most commonly thought of application for fall protection equipment, which we find is the second least preferred option! This is because arresting a fall exposes the worker to significant and sometimes painful forces. Rescuing a fallen worker can also be a difficult and potentially dangerous process.

5. Safety Monitor (Least Preferred - Highest Risk!) 

An application in which it is proven that all other types of fall protection are either infeasible or would increase potential danger to the worker. Here, a trained safety worker is assigned to exclusively monitor the work and safety of other workers. OSHA details many specific requirements that the Safety Monitor must adhere to in 1926.502(h).

And there you have it! Always keep the fall protection hierarchy in mind and stay as safe as possible!

5 Stages of Fall Protection Hierarchy