The personal fall arrest system (PFAS) is one of the most common types of fall protection used on job sites. PFAS refers to many different combinations of anchors, harnesses and connecting devices.

The anchor point, sometimes referred to as the tie-off point, is where a connecting device is attached. It must be able to support 5,000 pounds of pressure or twice the load it is expected to support. Tie-off points can’t be 2-by-4s, pipes or chimneys. Many PFASs use horizontal lifelines as the tie-off point. The connecting device attaches the body harness to the anchor point. Connecting devices include lanyards, self-retracting lifelines and shock-absorbing lifelines. The lifelines are designed to limit the amount of force exerted on the body.

The harness is a combination of straps that distribute the force from stopping a fall over the chest, thighs, waist, pelvis and shoulders. This minimizes the possible injury to any one body part or area. Harnesses vary in style, but all have a system of buckles and adjustable straps for a proper fit, which is critical to the correct operation; if it is too tight, it will be restricting, hard to move in and uncomfortable to work in. A loose harness can be very dangerous, causing serious and permanent damage to the body.

Since the employee is responsible for correctly putting on and tightening the harness, getting it right can save a life. This task is made up of six important steps:

1 Hold the harness by the D-ring, allowing all straps to fall into place.
2 Ensure all straps (chest, leg and waist) are unbuckled; unbuckle any straps that may still be buckled.
3 With straps over the shoulders, ensure the D-ring is in the middle of the back between the shoulder blades.
4 Pull the leg straps up between the legs and connect to the corresponding ends. If present, connect the waist strap, after both leg straps are connected.
5 Position the chest strap in the middle of the chest and buckle. Tighten to keep the shoulder straps taut.
6 Once all straps are buckled, tighten all of them so that the harness is snug but allows for free movement. Be sure to pass any excess strap back through the loop keepers.

Paying careful attention to all components of the PFAS can help save lives on your job site. Careful inspection of all PFAS components helps ensure they will work correctly when needed. The easiest way to inspect the whole system is to check each part individually.

Full-body harness
Before each use, do the following:

• Examine all nylon webbing for any tears, frayed areas, broken fibers, pulled stitches or burn marks anywhere on the harness.
• Examine the D-ring for excessive wear, pits, cracks or deterioration of any kind.
• Check that all buckles are not deformed or cracked and will operate correctly.
• Ensure any rivets and grommets that are present are secure and not deformed in any way.

A competent person must complete an annual inspection of the harness. Harnesses should be hung after each use, ideally in a closed cabinet, to protect them from damage when not in use. Any harness involved in a fall must be dispose of.

Tie-off points
Before each use, do the following:

• Examine for integrity and attachment to a solid surface.
• Inspect all tie-offs and anchorages.
• After a fall, remove and replace all tie-offs and anchorage points.

Lanyards/shock-absorbing lifelines
Before each use, do the following:

• Check material for any damage, cuts, burns, abrasions, kinks, knots and excessive wear.
• Keep locking mechanisms locked once secured.
• Visually inspect shock absorbers for any signs of damage, especially the attachment to the lanyard.

A competent person must conduct annual inspections of lanyards, as well. Lanyards should be hung, as with the harness, in a closed cabinet for protection.

Lanyards/self-retracting lifelines
Before each use, do the following:

• Inspect the body for any physical damage.
• Ensure all nuts and rivets are tight.
• Ensure the entire length of nylon strap/wire rope is free of any cuts, burns, abrasions, kinks, knots, broken stitches/strands, excessive wear; it should retract easily.
• Test the unit by pulling sharply on the lanyard/lifeline to ensure the locking mechanism is working correctly.

There are two differences in the inspection procedure for the self-retracting lanyard/lifeline and the other components of a PFAS. First, a competent person must inspect them every month. Second, after a fall, they can be reused, but they must be inspected and found to be undamaged. These lanyards/lifelines should be serviced according to manufacturer specifications, usually every year or two.

A thorough examination of a PFAS can help keep employees safe even if they fall.


KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 and dkelly@intecweb.com. Joe O’Connor edited this article.