A personal fall arrest system is a key component of a workplace fall protection safety program. Designed for use when other types of fall protection are not practical or feasible, a personal fall arrest system (PFAS) is meant to keep a person from hitting a lower floor level or other objects in the event of a fall.
As an integral part of a fall protection program, it is important to be familiar with the three main components of your PFAS and what each of them do..
3 Components of a Personal Fall Arrest System
Every personal fall arrest system is made up of a full body harness, a connecting means, and an anchorage point. Each of these three components plays an important role in preventing a dangerous fall.
It is important to note that any PFAS must only be used under the supervision of a Competent Person. A Competent Person is someone who is designated by the employer to be responsible for the immediate supervision, implementation, and monitoring of the employer’s managed fall protection program. A Competent Person must be capable of identifying, evaluating, and addressing existing and potential fall hazards. This person has the authority to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate identified hazards.
A Competent Person’s supervision is required for the use of a PFAS, and all three of the system’s components.
01. Full Body Harness
Also known as a safety harness, a full body harness is the wearable component of a personal fall arrest system. The full body harness is what connects a worker to the anchorage point, preventing the person from hitting a lower level or object in the event of a fall.
In the past, safety belts were used as an alternate option to the full body harness. This is no longer considered a safe practice for a PFAS. A full body harness distributes forces of a fall throughout the body and ensures the worker is suspended upright after a fall. A safety belt concentrates all forces of a fall onto one area of the body, and a worker could easily slip out of the belt, which is why the full body harness is the only approved option for those working in fall arrest mode.
Requirements of a full body harness:
- Full body harness must distribute force throughout the body
- Must keep a person upright after a fall
- Must limit maximum arresting force to 1,800 lbs
- Must include a keeper to control the ends of any dangling straps
02. Connecting Means
The connecting means is the second component of a personal fall arrest system. Designed to attach to the full body harness and anchorage point, the connecting means is what determines the length of a worker’s potential fall. There are two key types of connecting means: a lanyard and a self-retracting lifeline.
Each connecting means is used for different situations. If there are obstructions that an individual may come into contact with during a fall, then they must use a self-retracting lifeline to limit the fall distance. Whether a worker is wearing a lanyard or a self-retracting lifeline, the connecting means must always be worn, attached, and anchored by the person performing the work.
All connecting means must meet the following requirements:
- Must reduce arresting forces to less than 1,800lbs
- Must be the right length according to the calculated fall distance
- Must be connected to anchor and full-body harness with
- All connectors must be matched in size and proportion, and the gates must be capable of withstanding a minimum load of 3,600 lbs.
- Carabiners and snaphooks must be self- or double-locking to reduce the potential of rollout.
A lanyard is a short, flexible line of rope, wire rope, or webbing strap with connectors at each end. Lanyards are attached to a full body harness at one end, and to a deceleration device, shock absorber, anchorage connector, or anchorage point at the other end. Many lanyards include an internal or external shock absorber designed to reduce the force exerted on a worker in the event of a fall.
- Must be flexible rope, wire rope, or webbing strap
- May be no longer than 6 feet
- Must hang freely
- Must be attached to or include a deceleration device that slows the worker to a stop in the event of a fall
- Must meet a minimum tensile load of 5,000 lbs
A self-retracting lifeline performs the same function as a lanyard, connecting the worker’s safety harness to an anchorage point, but with one key difference. Rather than hanging freely, a self-retracting lifeline retracts automatically into the unit housing and must limit the free-fall distance of the worker to two feet or less. Because of the function of a self-retracting lifeline, it only needs to meet a minimum tensile load of 3,000 lbs.
03. Anchorage Point
The third and final component of a personal fall arrest system is an anchorage point. An anchorage point is what holds a person during and after a fall. Typically, this is something that is permanently attached to the structure where work is being completed.
In most cases, a steel member is the preferred choice for an anchor point. Any bolts and washers used for the anchorage point should be inspected and evaluated for their load bearing capabilities.
Anchorage point requirements:
- Minimum tensile strength of 5,000 lbs per person attached.
- Must meet specific design and installation requirements in order to support the intended load.
- Must be independent of the means of work
- Must be located at a height that will not allow free fall greater than 6 feet
- Must be positioned to minimize swing fall hazards
Understanding the purpose of PFAS and their components is just one aspect of fall protection safety. If you would like to learn more about fall protection training, we recommend eSafety’s Fall Protection & Personal Fall Arrest Systems course. Check out our full course library or tour our online training platform to learn more about our online training system and how it can be a good fit for your workplace’s safety needs.