Active vs. Passive Fall Protection: Standing Within OSHA’s Hierarchy of Controls

It would be ideal for every safety professional to find a straightforward solution when dealing with fall accidents in the workplace.

It would seem that having a uniform height across all jobs and sectors would make enforcement easy. However, this is not the case for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). While OSHA’s goal is to keep people safe in most businesses, keep in mind that local construction codes, such as OSHA, contracts, and site regulations may exceed statutory standards.


The distinction between passive and active fall prevention is a reasonable starting point. Industrial operation managers will be more educated to choose one course over another after that. The importance of knowledge in terms of safety is never an understatement.

Falls need careful consideration from safety professionals, and adding fall prevention training may boost morale. Talking about what happened during the incident can show that the company cares and improves how it plans to avoid these accidents from happening or recurring if they have already occurred before.

At the baseline, the proactive approach in fall protection should include:

  • The organization should identify the reason for the fall.
  • Examine and dismantle any malfunctioning personal fall arrest devices or equipment, such as scaffolding, work platforms, or ladders that may have contributed to the fall.
  • Create a fall prevention strategy or assess one that the company already has in place.
  • Talk to employees about their difficulties openly and honestly.
  • Organize a fall prevention retraining course and make the need for fall protection known throughout the business. 

OSHA has set limits for workplace height. Suppose any company does not meet these proposed limits. In that case, it is recommended that employers take precautions before risking an employee’s life by falling too far onto specific equipment or into dangerous situations like staircases while moving materials around on-site at job sites with no guardrails nearby.

OSHA Height Limits

In summary, here are the OSHA height limits where fall protection is required:

  • Four feet (1.2 meters) for industrial workspaces OSHA 1910.28(b)(1)(i)
  • Five feet (1.5 meters) for shipyards
  • Six feet (1.82 meters) for construction sites OSHA 1926.501(b)(1)
  • Eight feet (2.43 meters) for longshoring operations 

Employers may safeguard workers against falls in various ways, including using traditional methods like guardrails, safety nets, personal fall protection devices, implementing safe work practices, and providing proper training. In some cases, OSHA allows the use of warning lines, designated areas, control zones, and other similar systems, which can offer protection by restricting the number of employees exposed. 

Thinking about fall risks before the job begins, whether completing a hazard assessment or building a thorough fall protection strategy, will assist the employer in managing fall hazards and focusing emphasis on preventive measures. If personal fall protection devices are utilized, special attention should be paid to locating attachment points and ensuring that personnel correctly understand operating and inspect the equipment.

Active vs. Passive Fall Protection

A passive fall prevention system includes all safety features that are essentially static, immovable, or unmovable. When installing a passive system for fall prevention, there is no requirement for human involvement with the device, and no personal protective equipment is required. As previously indicated, they serve as the second line of safety against falls. The well-known examples of passive fall protection systems are:

A stair railing is available to halt a fall regardless a person is holding onto it or not. Whether workers are watching their steps or not, a netting beneath a scaffold will capture them. Put another way, there is hardly anything anyone can do to ensure that passive systems preserve their life or limb.

On the flip side, active fall protection technologies can be used when passive fall prevention is not an option. The active system is often viewed as dynamic, feature moving elements and necessitates human intervention to operate effectively. Workers must put their safety first by putting on the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) as part of an active system. A fall prevention system that is active consists of the following moveable components:

Hierarchy of Controls for Fall Protection

OSHA’s Hierarchy of Controls for fall protection appeared in their 2011 student manual. This hierarchy explains how to prioritize fall protection solutions. The fall protection hierarchy is utilized as the framework for the most appropriate strategy to prevent workplace falls. This blueprint employs the fall protection hierarchy to identify fall risks and then provides the most beneficial and viable approach for addressing the existing threats.

Obviously, the best approach should first start with prevention — when an organization eliminates fall hazards. Fall protection should be our first alternative in many cases because preventative strategies are not always accessible. If the fall dangers cannot be removed, the next step is to choose the best fall protection solution for the job.

Hierarchy of Controls for Fall Protection

Naturally, no single fall prevention solution is sufficient for all work functions. We must always examine each work and activity to establish the correct form of fall protection since the structure will differ from project to project.

Passive and active fall protection methods are in the middle of the hierarchy, with passive methods ranking more effective than the active methods because these passive methods complement in eliminating fall hazards. Active fall restraints rank better than administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE). To construct a system that safeguards individuals from fall hazards, companies need a skilled engineer and a competent person to implement policies or make these restraints operate effectively.

Organizations do need any special equipment to confine themselves by eliminating hazards or passive fall protection. When prevention does not cut the hazards completely, protection methods in the lower rung of the hierarchy can be applied. Administrative controls like marking controlled access zones, the management, administrators, and other staff members must take a stand to implement the correct use of fall safety equipment. A knowledge-based teaching approach will provide workers with the skills they need to establish safe working environments for when personnel is required to operate at a certain height. Administrative controls and PPE provision will encourage the necessary intervention and engagement of the workforce to integrate with preventive strategies.