"It was my first day working on a job that was off the ground, and I was super anxious to get on with my assigned task. I couldn’t believe how much time it was taking to install the guardrail system, and personally thought that our site supervisor was a bit over protective, however I knew he had rules to follow. I personally have no fear of heights so when I was assigned to work on the leading edge that was perfect for me. No problem, I am sure footed so I wasn’t the least bit nervous. I had only been into the job about ½ hour and for whatever reason I lost my footing, and took a spill off the leading edge. I realized as I was being suspended in mid air that I not only owed my life to my personal safety gear, but to what I had just previously considered my over protective site supervisor."

Protection and Safety on Leading Edges

In many different industries, workers are put at risk when they are required to work near leading edges. The leading edge is the edge of the surface that is being worked on and can change each time a new section is added. It imperative for the safety and well-being of workers that safety precautions and proper protective equipment be implemented when working near leading edges.

In general, a leading edge is present when there is a 6 foot or greater drop between the working surface and the lower level, and the edge is not guarded. This includes around holes at ground level, or uncovered openings in roofing. When these conditions are present, protective measures such as guardrails, safety net systems or a personal fall arrest system must be utilized. The choice of protective measure to be used is dictated by the potential hazards that are present to each worker in that area. Workers not working directly on the edge itself are still at risk of slipping and falling off the edge. For the protection of these workers it requires the use of one of the three safety systems.


The employer is responsible for knowing when a guardrail system is to be utilized, and how it is to be constructed. OSHA outlines the regulations and requirements of guardrail systems within the construction industry. The whole purpose of the guardrail system is to prevent workers from getting too close or falling off the leading edge. Or, if there are openings in the floor of the walk way these have to have protective barriers around them.Guardrails are a form of a fall prevention plan, designed to prevent the fall from ocurring in the first place. If a possible fall cannot be prevented, then a fall arrest system is used, which protects the worker in the case of a fall.

Safety Nets

In some situations a guardrail may not provide enough protection or be the best solution to remove or mitigate all of the potential risks. Employers might then implement a safety net system. While this system doesn’t have the capability of preventing a fall off the leading edge, it can protect the fallen worker from physical harm that would otherwise occur from a fall. There are detailed regulations and standards outlined by OSHA that must be considered when implementing a safety net system.

Personal Fall Arrest System

A personal fall arrest system is designed for the individual worker, whereas guardrail and safety net systems are geared towards protecting any worker in the site area. A personal fall arrest system is comprised of

  • Harness: These are constructed so they minimize the stress that would be placed on a body if a fall should occur.
  • Attachment location: This is the area where the lifeline is attached to the body harness. It should be center back of the wearer near the shoulder or above the head Horizontal or vertical
  • Lifeline/lanyard: These are chosen based on the main hazard being a horizontal fall or a vertical fall. This is the lifeline that stops the wearer from falling the total distance unprotected.
  • Webbing: These are the ropes used for the personal fall arrest system and must be comprised of synthetic fibers.
  • Anchors: The anchors are attached to a secure surface in a proper way to be used to attach to the personal fall arrest system.
  • Connectors: The components required to link the various components of the system together.

The personal fall arrest system must be designed and worn in such a way that it offers full protection, but does not impede the worker in their ability to move freely or ability to carry out their job requirements.

Just as it is important to have all of the safety and protection gear available for workers in risk of injury from leading edges, it is just as important that each and every worker be well trained in using the various equipment and systems. The first step in protecting workers from falls from leading edges is a proper hazard analysis. Identifying the fall hazards will dictate the best system to protect the workers.