What is the fall protection hierarchy and how does it work?

hierarchies of fall protection

Both ANSI and OSHA have set various regulations for work at height, and while many of the requirements show similarities there are also some notable differences. For example, ANSI and OSHA both have a so-called hierarchy of controls to help keep workers safe. These hierarchies show the preferred way of protecting workers from hazards. As with the regulations these hierarchies have some overlap as well as some contrasts. In this blog we’d like to explore the differences between the ANSI hierarchy of fall protection and OSHA’s hierarchy of controls.

ANSI’s hierarchy of fall protection strictly applies to those working at height, to minimize or fully eliminate the exposure to fall hazards. OSHA’s hierarchy of controls, on the other hand, applies to a wider range of work circumstances, such as the use of power tools.

Both hierarchies rank solutions to counteract hazards in a successive order, from the most effective and preferred, to the least preferred as more dangers can arise from misuse.

OSHA’s and ANSI’s hierarchies of fall protection

ANSI Logo fall protection

ANSI’s hierarchy of fall protection ranks the following solutions:

  1. Elimination or substitution
  2. Passive fall protection
  3. Active fall restraint
  4. Active fall arrest
  5. Administrative controls

OSHA’s hierarchy of controls depicts the following steps to correct hazardous situations:

  1. Eliminate/substitute
  2. Engineering controls
  3. Administrative controls
  4. Personal protection equipment

Elimination is the gold standard

As you can see both hierarchies see hazards elimination or substitution as the preferred solution. This means that employers should first try to remove all possible exposure to fall hazards. An example of elimination is ensuring no work has to be executed at height because machinery is moved to ground level. Elimination is always the preferred way to control a hazard and should be used whenever possible. The reason this is always the preferred method to control fall hazards is because the workers will not be faced with any fall risks and thus cannot get injured by a potential fall.

Legislation requires employees to try everything within their power to eliminate hazards in workplaces. As most employers or safety (HSE/HSQE) manager know, elimination or substitution is not always an option. There are situations in which people have to work at height. This is when we look at the second option in the hierarchy.

ANSI Fall protection measures

ANSI’s second level of protection consists of passive, also called collective, fall protection measures. Passive fall protection measures are static in nature and users do not have to interact with the system to ensure their safety. Guardrails are an example of collective fall protection measures.

Passive fall protection equipment is generally considered to provide a higher level of safety than fall arrest or fall restraint systems. As users do not have to put in work to use a system, resulting in less errors. Examples of passive fall protection systems are guardrails. Guardrails are placed at roof edges or in other areas to help prevent users from reaching areas where they could fall. Guardrails are an excellent option to keep everyone working at height safe without the use of fall protection Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

ANSI’s second level of hazard controls is called engineering controls. These are measures that change the structure of a workplace to limit exposure to fall hazards. They are essentially the same kind of measures as ANSI’s passive fall protection; safety devices that block users from reaching dangerous areas.
While passive fall protection (or engineered controls) are preferred for a worksite, there are situations where implementation of these solutions is not possible or could create greater risks. In this case we move to the next step of the hierarchy.

ANSI Logo fall protection

Final check (ANSI)

The least preferred method to combat fall hazards according to ANSI’s hierarchy are the administrative controls. This option includes warning signs, training and fall protection procedures. These measures in themselves do not save employees from a fall, but they help create awareness of the hazard.

In OSHA’s hierarchy of control administrative controls are step number three, after eliminating or engineering controls. These administrative controls described in this hierarchy are equal to the ones in ANSI’s hierarchy. However, OSHA’s hierarchy has one last step to control hazards; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The last line of defense (OSHA)

PPE includes for example protective clothing, helmets and safety goggles. Fall protection PPE includes full body harnesses, lanyards and temporary anchorages. This type of equipment helps protect employees from safety hazards in a workplace.

In OSHA’s hierarchy of controls PPE is a last line of defense. When it comes to fall protection PPE are often used in combination with an active fall protection system. There are situations where a temporary anchor point can be used, in combination with other PPE. An example is a sling anchor employed during construction on an the open sided floor level of a newly build skyscraper.

Levels of fall protection safety

The higher on the list, or pyramid, the fall protection solution is the higher the level of safety. The lower you get on the hierarchy the higher the influence of human behavior on the safety system. Only if you can show that the safer solutions are not possible can you implement, for example, a fall arrest system.

Both hierarchies show a different approach to hazard control. This difference can be useful while considering suitable fall protection solutions for your project. Also remember that changes to a workplace can result in the rise of new fall hazards and that you may have to follow the steps in the hierarchy again.

“To help you in selecting the right solution for your organization we’ve put together our different safety solutions. These systems are ordered on level of risk reduction, desired freedom of movement, total users and user know-how.

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