Learn the ABC's of the Personal Fall Arrest System

The three basic components of any fall arrest system are Anchorage Connectors, Body Wear and Connecting Devices.

man adjusting straps on his fall arrest system


Where fall hazards and risks are great, having the right fall protection equipment on hand is paramount for workplace safety. Falls may be the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry, but fall-preventing safety harnesses and fall protection systems can help make that statistic much more preventable. 

When working at heights and in need of protection from potential falls, we want to look at the three basic components of any fall arrest system – anchorage connectors, body wear and connecting devices

Individually, these three items will not provide protection from a fall. However, when used properly with each other, they form a high-quality personal fall arrest system that becomes vitally important to workplace safety on your job site.


Related: Check out our Hi-Vis Rain Jacket guide and stay visible while working in the elements.


A = Anchorage Connectors

  • Anchorage Connectors are used to join the connecting device to the anchorage point and might include cross-arm straps, beam anchors, D-bolts and hook anchors.
  • An anchorage point or tie-off point is the area that supports the entire weight of the system and might include I-beams, rebar, scaffolding or lifelines.
  • Anchorage points must be capable of supporting 5,000 pounds of force per worker and must be high enough for a worker to avoid contact with a lower level should a fall occur.
  • Only a professional engineer can reclassify an anchorage point and approve using a structure de-rated to a minimum of 3,600 lbs. capacity.



B = Body Wear

  • Bodywear is the personal protective equipment worn by the worker, such as a fall protection harness. (Body Belts are not acceptable for fall arrest. They can only be used for positioning.)
  • Sizing is determined by measuring the widest point around the waist with clothing on, although universal-sized harnesses do fit most male workers.
  • While all fall protection harnesses must be rated for up to a minimum of 310 lb. Most manufacturers have retested their harnesses to a much higher weight limit (some up to 440 lbs.).


Selecting Body Wear for My Fall Arrest System

Buckle Options

  • Mating Buckles are the most common buckle style used by workers who do not share their fall protection harness. Once adjusted, the smaller buckle locks over the larger one for a secure fit.
  • Tongue Buckles are similar to a standard belt buckle. This buckle is ideal for those who share their fall protection harness. The material is generally a little thicker and stiffer in the tongue buckle area.
  • Friction Buckles or Parachute Buckles are easy to adjust between various workers. Simply step into the leg holes and pull the straps tight. These buckles are commonly used to adjust torso length.


D-Ring Locations

  • Back D-Rings are found on every fall protection harness and are the only connective point allowed for fall arrest scenarios.
  •  Side D-Rings are commonly used for positioning applications when workers need their hands free during certain work functions.
  • Chest D-Rings are used for positioning work, such as ladder climbing applications.
  • Shoulder D-Rings are commonly used for lowering workers into tightly confined spaces.


Fall Protection Harness Materials

  • Nylon – A significant number of fall protection harness styles are made of nylon webbing for excellent strength and comfort.
  • Polyester – A significant number of fall protection harnesses are made of polyester webbing for excellent chemical resistance in harsh environments.
  • Nomex/Kevlar – This is the material of choice for a flame-retardant fabric and is commonly used in hot work or arc-rated situations.
  • Teflon Coating – This invisible finish provides superior water/oil repellency and protection against spills and stains. This coating is designed to produce up to 25% longer service life without changing the breathability, feel or color of the webbing.



C = Connecting Devices

  • Connecting devices are the critical link that joins the body wear to the anchorage connector.
  •  Connective devices include shock-absorbing lanyards, personal fall limiters, self-retracting lifelines, horizontal lifelines, lifeline systems, rope grabs, etc.


Selecting a Connecting Device for My Fall Arrest System

Connecting devices attach to the fall protection harness on one side and the anchor point on the other. This can be one device, such as a lanyard, or a combination of devices, such as lanyards, lifelines, rope grabs, fall limiters/self-retracting lifelines, and carabiners.


  •  Lanyards are used to restrain workers in position and to arrest falls.
  • When used as a restraining device, you need to keep the length short so that workers cannot fall more than 2'.
  • Restraining lanyards can include steel cable, rebar chain assemblies and nylon webbing or rope.
  • Fall protection lanyards can be made of steel, nylon rope or nylon webbing.
  • The height of the tie-off point must ensure that the worker does not free fall greater than 6' before the shock absorber is activated.
  • Longer shock-absorbing lanyards can be specially ordered if the tie-off point is higher.



  • Lifelines add versatility to a fall arrest system as workers can move along the lifeline when used with a rope grab. The rope grab will arrest a fall instantly.
  • Manual Rope Grab – Workers must manually pinch the device to adjust where it is placed on the lifeline; commonly used in roofing applications.
  • Trailing Rope Grab – Commonly used in vertical work applications where employees want the grab to trail them up or down a ladder. If a worker falls, the unit will lock and keep them from free falling more than 6'.


Retractable Lifelines/Fall Limiters

  • These units will pan out either cable or webbing, then retract automatically as the worker gets closer to the device. This prevents excessive free fall distances and decreases the chances of injury during a fall.
  • When choosing a Retractable Lifeline/Fall Limiter, you must address the following:
    • Length of line needed
    • Material of lifeline – Steel cable, wide nylon webbing, or narrow nylon webbing
    • Type of connection – Snap lock, carabiner, larger rebar carabiner
    • Swivel options – Some swivel at the top of the unit, some swivel at the connection to your fall protection harness, some don't swivel, and some mount directly to a user's harness.


Related: The ANSI fall protection standard for Self-Retracting Lifelines has changed recently! Learn more about what's new in our article here.


Our premier manufacturing partners for fall arrest systems and accessories include 3M, Ergodyne, Honeywell, and MSA.


Contact our Safety Support Team to help you select the correct fall arrest system for your particular workplace. In almost any situation you have, we can offer you options that best fit your budget or specific needs, allowing your employees to work comfortably and efficiently.



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