Understanding Restraint Systems

Learn what fall restraint systems are, how they can protect workers from falls at heights, the types of equipment involved, and the importance of regular inspections.

What is a Fall Restraint System?

Fall restraint systems, also called tie-off systems, are safety measures to prevent workers from falling while working at heights. These systems are designed to limit the worker’s movement and ensure they cannot reach the edge of the working surface.

Fall restraint systems can include harnesses, lanyards, anchor points, and other equipment. They are crucial for tasks at elevated heights, such as construction workers, window washers, and roofers.

It’s essential to regularly inspect fall restraint systems and equipment to ensure they are in good working condition. Immediately replace any damaged equipment to prevent accidents. Employers should also periodically train workers to use fall restraint systems to ensure safety.

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How are Fall Restraints Different from Fall Arrests?

Safety is paramount when working at heights. For example, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates fall protection at specific elevations in various workplace industries. The following are the height limits:

  • Four feet for industrial workspaces
  • Five feet for shipyards
  • Six feet for construction sites
  • Eight feet for long-shoring

Fall protection systems prevent workers from falling and potentially suffering severe injuries or death. Two of the most common systems are fall arrest and fall restraint.

Fall arrest systems stop workers who have already fallen by using a lanyard or harness to arrest the fall. If workers fall, the system will activate and prevent them from hitting the ground.

On the other hand, fall restraint systems prevent workers from falling in the first place by restricting their movement. Instead of stopping a fall, this system will prevent workers from reaching the edge of a surface or structure where they could fall.

When To Use Fall Restraint?

Assessing the need for a fall restraint system is advisable before implementing a fall arrest system. A fall restraint system may be necessary if there’s limited distance to the ground.

In addition, it allows workers to work continuously at a fixed distance without much intervention. The safety measures reduce the need for a rescue plan during the work, as there is little risk of a worker falling or being suspended in their harness.

Furthermore, the current height safety regulations established by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) require the following:

  • Work at a reasonable height if possible.
  • Use fall restraint equipment (such as edge protection barriers) if you cannot avoid working at height.
  • Wear restraint Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent the worker from reaching a fall hazard (such as an unprotected roof edge or an open utility hole).
  • Minimize the consequences of a fall by using a fall arrest system. This option is always a last resort but must provide adequate rescue measures.

Different Fall Restraint Equipment

Fall protection systems, whether fall arrest or fall restraint, consist of three crucial pieces of equipment: anchors, lanyards, and harnesses. This section will discuss each piece of equipment in more detail.


An anchorage connects self-retracting lanyards or lifelines to a worker’s body harness for fall arrest or restraint. It may be a pre-engineered system or a secure connection point on a structure. The effectiveness of an anchorage depends on its design, condition, orientation, and connection to the supporting structure.

According to OSHA standard 1910.140(c)(13), anchors should be “capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds (22.2 kN) per employee attached; or designed, installed, and used, under the supervision of qualified person, as part of a complete personal fall protection system that maintains a safety factor of at least two.”

Qualified individuals must regularly inspect permanent anchor points and fall restraint systems, following specific guidelines for these safety features. The frequency of assessments may need to be modified based on hazard identification and equipment evaluation.

Document these inspections by keeping the following information:

  • Name of the competent person performing the inspection
  • Inspection date
  • Findings and changes made following the inspection

Additionally, it’s important to visually inspect anchor points before attaching fall protection systems. Avoid using the anchorage point if any visible issues such as corrosion, cracks, or damage are present. Loose, weakened, or damaged fasteners can directly impact the strength and stability of the anchor point.


A harness typically comprises straps that wrap around the worker’s torso and legs, a D-ring or other attachment point on the back, and a lanyard or lifeline connecting the harness to an anchor point. The lanyard or lifeline may be retractable or adjustable to allow the worker some freedom of movement while still keeping them safe.

It’s essential to consider various factors before choosing a harness, such as the worker’s weight and height, the type of work, and the environment they’ll be working in. Proper fit and adjustment are also crucial to ensure maximum safety and comfort.

Additionally, you should inspect the harness before every use. You can follow the steps below:

  • To check for any abnormalities in the harness, hold it up and scan it. Verify that both sides match and that no parts are missing.
  • Ensure the webbing isn’t twisted as you pass arms through the harness.
  • Verify that the ‘D’ ring and harness are positioned correctly over the shoulders.
  • Ensure proper positioning of the sub-pelvic strap by adjusting the shoulder straps and placing them under the buttocks.


Lanyards are made of strong, lightweight materials such as nylon or polyester. These devices attach to a worker’s safety belt or harness and an anchor point. Several types of lanyards are available, including shock-absorbing lanyards, self-retracting lanyards (SRLs), and positioning lanyards.

  • Shock-absorbing lanyards – This is the most commonly used type of lanyard; it’s simple to deploy, easily identifiable, typically 6 feet long, and features an expansion pack on one end.
  • Self-retracting lanyards (SRLs) – also called vertical fall protection lifelines. They prevent users from falling by keeping consistent tautness. They’re similar to car seats and shoulder belts and can be easily pulled out and retracted. An internal braking mechanism stops falls if there is a sudden pull or fall, and the tension releases to allow free movement of the lifeline.
  • Positioning lanyards – lanyards with fixed lengths commonly used in rebar assembly for pour-in-place concrete walls to maintain stability rather than for fall protection.

Before using any lanyard, inspecting these specific points is crucial:

  • Inspect the device for signs of wear, damage, or deterioration.
  • Verify that all snap hooks and carabiners on the product can self-close and lock.
  • Inspect all webbing and rope for signs of wear or damage, such as tears, cuts, fraying, abrasion, or discoloration.
  • Ensure that sewn terminations are secure, complete, and without visible damage.
  • Secure the rope splices.
  • Check if the thimbles are tight and not visibly damaged on swaged terminations.
  • Avoid deploying load indicators.
  • Immediately remove deteriorated or defective components per OSHA requirements 29 CFR 1910.66 & 1926.502.

Additionally, to ensure a comprehensive examination of the webbing and rope components in a shock-absorbing lanyard, it is advisable to adhere to the following steps:

  • Bend the webbing 6 to 8 inches into an upside-down “U” shape.
  • Thoroughly check for any signs of wear or damage, such as tears, cuts, fraying, abrasion, discoloration, burns, holes, mold, unspliced, pulled, broken stitches, or other indications of damage.
  • Verify that sewn terminations be secure, complete, and free of visible damage. Additionally, all rope splices should be safe.
Rob Paredes
Article by

Rob Paredes

SafetyCulture Content Contributor
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. Before joining SafetyCulture, he worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade. Rob's diverse professional background allows him to provide well-rounded, engaging content that can help businesses transform the way they work.