The majority of work-related fatalities in the construction sector are caused by falls. In the industry in 2020, falls to a lower level were the cause of more than one-third of fatal workplace accidents.

Fall prevention is crucial for financial reasons, even if the worst case scenario is avoided. The top 10 OSHA violations include two of which involve fall-related rules. Companies frequently receive citations for not just failing to follow fall protection rules but also for improperly educating employees on the matter.

Understanding the fall prevention requirements for yourself, including all the terminologies that are readily misunderstood, is the first step in avoiding a citation.

Fall Protection vs. Fall Prevention

Common words that are frequently used interchangeably are fall protection and fall prevention. There is, nevertheless, a distinction between them.

How do you prevent falls?

Fall prevention refers to any method or procedure you do to reduce the danger of an unintentional fall. This makes sense because prevention refers to the act of attempting to avoid something completely.

Examples of fall prevention include teaching workers to recognize fall risks, erecting a barrier to stop falls, or utilizing a lanyard to prevent workers from unintentionally approaching an exposed edge while working. Fall restraint systems are what the last two are called.


Fall Protection: What Is It?

You can utilize fall protection devices to reduce injuries in the event of an unintentional fall. Anything from an aerial lift to a fall arrest device can be used as fall protection.

OSHA’s fall protection regulations encourage this practice, which is one of the reasons why fall prevention and fall protection are often used synonymously. “Any equipment, mechanism, or system that protects a worker from falling from an elevation or mitigates the impacts of such a fall” is how they define fall protection.

Restraint vs. Fall Arrest

When discussing about safety products, fall prevention systems, fall arrest systems, and fall restraint systems tend to get mixed up more than fall prevention and fall protection do in broader talks of workplace safety.

The distinction between prevention (preventing a fall before it occurs) and protection, however, underlies both phrases (minimizing injuries during a fall).


A fall prevention system is what?

Any piece of equipment that passively shields employees from an exposed edge is a fall prevention device. Passive restraint systems (or “methods,” since they involve simpler equipment) are another name for fall prevention systems.


Individual employees are “passive,” which means they don’t have to do anything extra to take advantage of the equipment while the company must actively install it (though you can choose to pair passive restraint with an active system).


Guardrails, warning lines, self-closing gates, and ladder cages are some fall prevention techniques.


A fall restraint system: What is it?

Workers must actively use the fall restraint system by attaching themselves to an anchor and using a lanyard that is long enough to keep them from falling off an edge. Fall restraint systems are designed to prevent falls from happening.


A fall arrest system: What is it?

A fall arrest system is fall protection, whereas active and passive restraint systems could be classified as fall prevention. It is a system that lessens the likelihood and extent of injury in the event that a worker does fall.


Fall restraint and fall arrest systems often share a lot of similarities in terms of equipment. These are regarded as active fall protection systems since employees must connect to the system. In addition, they need many components in order to function, including at least one anchor, a connector (lanyard), and body support (such as a harness).


A fall arrest system’s connector is normally longer, but a fall restraint system’s connector is often shorter with changeable length. Also, it must be able to withstand the force created by the worker’s weight and the velocity of the fall. In order to safely descend, a fall arrest system also requires an additional component for self-rescue or assisted rescue.


When Does OSHA Need Fall Protection?

Although a rule change a few years ago made the Construction and General Industry fall protection standards significantly more similar, the restrictions are slightly varied depending on whether you work in the construction, maritime, or general industry (everyone else).


For general industry, fall protection is necessary at heights of 4 feet, 5 feet, and 6 feet, respectively. There are some perplexing exclusions to construction regulations, such as the one that says fall protection is not necessary until:


  • scaffolding 10 feet above the lowest level
  • 15 feet for anyone working on steel construction projects
  • 24 feet on a rebar assembly or fixed ladder


In any case, you can start implementing fall protection at a lower height, but as soon as employees rise above the required height, OSHA may start levying steep fines.


Recall that fall protection in OSHA regulations also covers fall prevention, therefore everyone working on a construction site six feet or higher above a lower level requires either a fall prevention system or a fall protection system.


Additional information about OSHA’s fall protection requirements

Since training is expressly mandated, if you’re subject to OSHA’s fall protection rules, you and your employees will need to learn a lot more to stay compliant.


We can help you teach your workforce successfully and efficiently with mobile-friendly online courses as an OSHA-authorized training provider. To get started, have a look at our supervisor-level training on Fall Arrest Systems.


You must take a Site Safety Training (NYC SST) course since the New York City Department of Buildings has its own safety regulations. If you’re a non-supervisor who needs a refresher, you should take 4-hour Fall Prevention rather than the more common 8-hour Fall Prevention course. Browse out our SST offerings and sign up right away!