Arrest vs restraint: how to combat fall risks

Arrest vs restraint: how to combat fall risks

Those who work at heights are exposed to various fall risks. It is important to understand when and how these risks can be controlled. In this piece, our columnist takes a look at two forms of fall protection

Fall protection is an overarching term for fall arrest, fall restraint, and fall prevention. It is important to understand the distinction between these designations, as this will define both the equipment and methods that you will need to use to remain safe while working at heights.


When we talk about fall arrest when working at a height, we are referring to a position where the person must use personal protective equipment (PPE) specifically designed to stop their fall, should the need arise. Situations like this may include climbing up and down a fixed ladder, working on a telecoms tower, or even working on a wind turbine.

Workers must use the correct fall arrest device when working in a position where there is a direct fall risk. This prevents serious injuries in the case of a fall.

For example, a double shock absorbing lanyard will not stop a person from hitting the ground if they fall from a three-metre high fall arrest position. In such an instance, the use of a mobile fall arrestor or inertia reel is advised instead. These devices are designed to stop a fall almost immediately, thereby lessening the total distance of the fall.


Fall restraint, on the other hand, refers to a position of working at a height where there is no immediate risk of falling. However, if a person is not using the proper protective equipment, there is the potential for getting into a position from which they can fall.

Examples of such situations include working on unprotected flat roof tops, or areas with unprotected floor openings.

Above: The image on the left depicts a fall arrest situation, with workers using personal protective equipment (PPE) specifically designed to stop their fall. The picture on the right shows how fall restraint works. There is no immediate risk of falling, but if a person is not using the proper PPE there is the potential for getting into a position from which they can fall.

Fall restraint is the method used by workers to safely connect themselves when working at a height, in such a way as to prevent or restrict the possibility of moving into an unprotected area.


The hierarchy of controls in fall protection include elimination, fall prevention, fall restraint, and fall arrest. When deciding on the best method of fall protection to use, a full risk assessment must be conducted. This risk assessment evaluates the hierarchy of controls for fall risks and provides the necessary information for the user to select the most appropriate method.

While fall arrest and fall restraint methods each present their own sets of risks and the hierarchy of controls positions one method as safer than the other in different situations, there ARE certain situations in which working in a fall arrest position is unavoidable. For this reason, the correct equipment and training must be provided.


When deciding between the two methods, therefore, it is clear that neither method is necessarily better than the other. Rather, the safest option will depend on the working environment, the scope of work that needs to be performed, and the chosen access method (such as ladders, scaffolding, or mobile elevating work platforms).

Only after the completion of a site-specific risk assessment and consideration of the scope of work can one establish which fall protection method should be implemented.

This, together with the correct equipment and competence training, will result in the safest protection for the individual against falling and sustaining injuries while working at a height.

Be safe out there!

Published by

Ruaan Breedt

Ruaan Breedt is the working at height and fall protection specialist at BBF Safety Group. He has completed the following training and obtained accreditation for: Production efficiencies & ISO 9001:2015 auditor; fall arrest level 1, 2 and 3; confined space entry, exit and rescue; and is a fall arrest equipment testing specialist. He is a SABS technical committee member; SABS ISO mirror committee technical member; and fall arrest and rope access chamber member.
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