Active versus Passive Fall Systems: Know the Difference

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active fall systems passive fall systemsActive Fall Systems vs Passive Fall Systems

Did you know the construction industry has the highest fatal injury rate for all industries?

Numerous hazards exist, but the following hazards top the list:

  • Falls
  • Trench Collapse
  • Scaffold Collapse
  • Electrocution
  • Failure to use proper PPE
  • Repetitive Motion Injuries

Falling from heights takes the cake, year after year.

For the month of July, we will be focusing on fall protection.

In this article, we look at the difference between active fall protection vs passive fall protection.

Passive Fall Protection Systems

Common traits of passive fall protection systems include:

  • no human interaction required after installation
  • no active mechanisms
  • having no moving parts

Passive fall protection systems are items such as netting and guardrail systems.

passive fall system

A passive system is much like it sounds.

Whether or not you are actively using netting or guardrails, there it stands, passively protecting you.

Active Fall Protection Systems

Active fall systems are also exactly what they sound like: they are dynamic.

Active systems involve:

  • a harness
  • a lanyard
  • an anchor point

And when it comes to fall arrest, a rescue plan must also be involved.

These active systems are not set-it-and-forget-it products.

Active fall protection systems still require vigilance by employees and must be inspected prior to every use.

Specifically, employees must:

  • inspect the equipment
  • adjust the equipment
  • tie it to the anchor point
  • ensure the equipment is being used properly

If any of those steps are not taken, you should worry about more than violating OSHA’s compliance standards: lives are at risk.

When fall systems don’t work as intended, the result is injury and/or death.

When do I use an active fall system?

Typically, active systems are used in lower traffic areas.

These are areas in which passive systems either

a) can’t be installed, or

b) are in an environment that is constantly changing.

The latter is often the case on construction sites, making the use of a passive system, such as a guardrail, quite difficult.

Fall Prevention and Fall Arrest

Often we see active/passive fall systems confused with fall prevention/fall arrest.

It may seem like common sense to assume all passive systems are used for fall prevention, while active systems are used for fall arrest.

This is not always the case.

Take a guardrail kit for example.

passive fall system rail

A guardrail – which is a passive system – would fall under the category of fall prevention. However, netting, another passive system, would fall under the category of fall arrest.

A guardrail – which is a passive system – would fall under the category of fall prevention. However, netting, another passive system, would fall under the category of fall arrest.

However, netting, another passive system, would fall under the category of fall arrest.

Let’s take another example:

While a Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS) that is made up of a harness, shock-absorbing lanyard and anchor point is ‘active’, a travel restraint system is also active, yet is fall prevention.

Conclusion

Understanding these differences and the various terminology associated with them is crucial.

Not just for your Safety Director or Supervisor, but for each and every construction worker on-site!

OSHA requirements are always changing.

Thorough understanding of these differences will help you and your employees navigate the sometimes murky waters of OSHA regulations.

 

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