Fall Protection

Fall protection equipment notices

Read additional safety notices in the EQUIPMENT SAFETY NOTICES section of this page.

Falls are among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. The University of Washington, through the UW Fall Protection Program Manual, is committed to protecting employees and others from fall hazards through safe design, hazard elimination, engineering controls, safe work practices, training, and personal protective equipment when necessary.

If a fall hazard cannot be eliminated, effective fall protection shall be planned, implemented, and monitored to control the risks of injury due to falling. According to Washington State Department of Labor and Industries regulations, regardless of the fall distance in Washington State, ALL employers have a duty of care to protect employees from being exposed to serious injury or death while working at heights, including above or adjacent to dangerous equipment or machinery.

Whether you work in a shop, laboratory, office, research facility, medical center or you are just walking on campus, you must be protected from fall hazards. The following major areas covered by the UW Fall Protection Program Manual may not include all situations where fall hazards exist and need to be addressed.

Fall protection requirements

Identifying fall hazards involves recognizing any work process, activity or situation with the potential to cause injury or harm to a person due to a risk of falling when working at heights. The hazards must always be identified, risks assessed, and the proper controls put in place prior to starting work and when changes to work activities are planned or occur. Use the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) template (Word) to identify hazards and controls to manage the risk of fall hazards.

The five levels in the hierarchy of fall protection controls are listed below.

Temporary guardrail
Temporary guardrails at Mechanical Engineering building

Hazard elimination is the first and best control to protect employees from fall hazards. The controls in this list are progressively less protective, with Administrative Controls being the least protective.

  1. Hazard Elimination: Evaluating the design to eliminate fall hazards or changing the task, process, controls, or other means to remove the need for any employee to be exposed to a fall hazard.
  2. Passive Fall Protection: Fall protection that does not require the wearing or use of personal fall protection equipment. An example is a guardrail system.
    Fall restraint
    Fall restraint system


    Fall arrest
    Fall arrest system on horizontal lifeline

  3. Fall Restraint: The technique of securing an employee to an anchorage using a full body harness and lanyard short enough to prevent the person’s center of gravity from reaching the fall hazard.
  4. ​​Personal Fall Arrest System: A system comprised of, at a minimum, an anchorage, full body harness, lanyard, and connectors used to arrest an employee from free falling more than six feet in a fall from an elevated level.
  5. Administrative Controls: Employer mandated safe work practices or procedures that prevent exposure to a fall by signaling or warning an employee to avoid approaching a fall hazard. Examples include warning lines and safety monitors.


Fall Protection Work Plan

A written and approved fall protection work plan is required when working at heights greater than 10 feet (with some exceptions).

Use the Fall Protection Work Plan template to document your plan.

  • Type of fall protection system to be used and procedures for setup, inspection, ongoing monitoring and removal
  • Procedures for securing tools and equipment for overhead protection
  • Method planned for prompt, safe rescue and removal of injured workers
  • Employee training on the fall protection work plan
  • Inspection of fall protection equipment prior to work
  • Necessary approvals

Walking-working surfaces

A walking-working surface is any horizontal or vertical surface on or through which an employee walks, works or gains access to a work area. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, slips, trips and falls are the leading cause of workplace fatalities and injuries. Falls from heights and on the same level are historically among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries at the University.

  • Walking-working surfaces need to be inspected periodically to ensure that they are free of hazards.
  • Guardrails or appropriate fall protection must be provided where required.


Portable and fixed ladders are used by many employees for various tasks at the University. Falls from ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational injuries according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Instead of using a ladder to access or work at an elevated height, consider using a mobile scaffold or mobile elevating work platform.

If a ladder must be used for a job:

  • Select the appropriate ladder.
  • Inspect it thoroughly.
  • Use it properly.

Refer to the Ladder Safety focus sheet (PDF) for detailed information about selecting, inspecting and using ladders safely.


Scaffolds are temporary elevated platforms that support employees or materials and can be supported or suspended.

  • Supported scaffolds can consist of one or more platforms supported by rigid means such as outrigger beams, brackets, poles, legs, uprights, posts or frames.
  • Mobile scaffolds are supported scaffolds that are on casters or wheels.
  • Suspended scaffolds are working platforms suspended by ropes, chains, or lifting gear and capable of being raised and lowered by mechanical means. Suspended platforms can be classified as permanent and temporary.

Employees must be protected from fall hazards on all scaffolds, and protected from falling objects from above.

Before starting work each day, a Competent Person must complete a Scaffold Pre-Use Daily Inspection to verify the scaffolding is safe for work.

Mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs)

Mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) include:

  • Scissor lifts and vertical personnel lifts, where the elevating work platform cannot be positioned beyond the base of the unit. The guardrail around the work platform is the main fall protection system. Personal fall protection may be required for certain activities.
  • Aerial lifts, and boom, telescoping and articulating lifts, where the work platform can be positioned beyond the base of the unit. Personal fall protection is always required on these lifts.

Prior to using a MEWP, inspect the MEWP to verify it is safe for work.

Roof activities

A fall protection system is required when employees are exposed to fall hazards of 4 feet or more to the ground or lower level.

The best fall protection on a roof is a parapet wall or permanent guardrail system 42 inches (plus or minus 3 inches) high at the roof edge.

Fall protection must be provided on unguarded roofs when employees and others need to access the roof and do work.

Use the Roof Access Permit Template to control contractor access to conduct work on the roof of a University building.

Window cleaning/suspended maintenance operations

Bosun's chair
Bosun's chair

Window cleaning and building facade maintenance workers must pay close attention to all parts of their fall protection system. This includes ensuring that rigging points, lifelines and working lines are in good condition and properly attached. Having adequate and certified anchorage points is critical when working suspended at any height on buildings.

What you need to know

Equipment safety notices

What you can do to stay safe

UW employees should:

  • Attend required training provided for all work that may have a fall hazard.
  • Ask for training if unsure about procedures or equipment.
  • Always use designated controls, safe work practices and proper personal protective equipment when working at heights.
  • Follow fall protection work plans.
  • Know accident and rescue procedures.
  • Inspect fall protection equipment before each use; do not use if not deemed safe.

Services available

EH&S provides the following services:

  • Conduct and advise on fall protection training
  • Advise on job hazard analysis and fall protection work plans
  • Consult on fall protection controls and safe work practices
  • Recommend specific personal protective equipment when working at heights

More information

Frequently asked questions

Yes. Walking-working surface regulations require that employers inspect walking-working surfaces regularly and correct, repair, or guard against hazardous conditions. This includes walkways, stairways and any areas where people work or travel to or from their work area.

Many factors may contribute to slips, trips and falls (e.g., poor lighting, housekeeping, poor drainage, or needed repairs). Contact UW Facilities to address issues.

If you need to use a stool or step ladder, ensure it is in good condition and appropriate for the task.

Before using fall protection on a conventional portable step ladder, consider safer access such as a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP), scaffold or portable platform ladder. If it is not possible, a personal fall protection system is required while using a ladder:

  • Any time a worker is on a ladder greater than 24 feet off the floor
  • Working on a ladder at or above 10 feet off the floor (to the worker’s feet) where both hands are occupied with a task. Some short-term light work may be permitted if it does not affect maintaining balance on ladder. A Competent Person should review and approve the Fall Protection Work Plan before work begins.
  • If the worker is turned around on the ladder, or an excessive amount of reaching or leaning is necessary to conduct the task.

The anchor point for personal fall protection on a ladder must be determined by a Competent Person, be located overhead, and meet the requirements for anchors.

Refer to the LADDER section in the UW Fall Protection Program Manual for more details.

According to Washington Administrative Code (WAC) regulations and American National Standards Institute/American Society of Safety Engineers (ANSI/ASSE) standards, anchorages attached to personal fall arrest systems shall be capable of supporting at least 5,000 lbs. for each person attached, or shall be designed, installed, and used as part of a complete personal fall arrest system that maintains a safety factor of at least two, under the supervision of a Qualified Person.

Depending on the application and work environment, the basic rule is:

  • If you are working below 17.5 feet you should use a self-retracting lanyard.
  • If you are working above 17.5 feet you can use an energy-absorbing lanyard or a self-retracting lanyard. When using an energy-absorbing lanyard, you need to be anchored at least 17.5 to 18 feet above the ground or lower level to ensure proper clearance. If mobility is a requirement, self-retracting lanyards have a wider range of movement and minimize trip hazards as the lanyard is always pulled taut under retraction tension.

Fall clearance is the minimum vertical distance a worker needs in the event of a fall to safely arrest the fall and avoid striking the ground or an object below.

Factors to consider include:

  • Deceleration distance
  • Height of the worker
  • Whether a shock-absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lanyard is being used.

A correct calculation is critical tfor a safely arrested fall and avoid serious injury. Diagrams and formulas for calculating fall clearance are on page 4 of the Fall Protection Work Plan.

If the distance between the anchorage point and the nearest obstruction is less than the calculated fall clearance distance, the fall arrest system cannot effectively protect a worker from the dangers of a fall from height.

A swing fall is a pendulum-like motion that can occur when a worker falls and their connector device is in a position located horizontally away from the anchorage point and not directly above the worker. In such situations, swing fall distance must also be considered. Because a swing fall generally lengthens the overall vertical fall distance, clearances must be adjusted.

Inspection is typically a visual process performed on equipment prior to use and on a periodic basis. Recertification is a process which typically involves engineering review of the original design, load testing and other activities in order to “certify” a system.

No. The 5,000 lb. rule generally applies to anchorage points that a Competent Person (who is not typically an engineer) has assessed. Engineered fall protection systems, such as a horizontal lifeline, can be designed using a safety factor of two. This means an engineer, or Qualified Person, calculates the actual loads and then applies a safety factor of two for design purposes.

The term “100% fall protection” means that, at all times when a person is exposed to fall hazards, they must be protected by an active or passive fall protection system. An example is when a person working on an aerial lift, who is tied off to an anchor on the platform, must leave the platform to work at another location with a fall hazard. The worker needs to wear a “Y” lanyard so they can connect to an anchorage at the new location and transfer while still connected to the platform anchor. Alternatively, a guardrail system can be set up at the new location prior to transfer.

A harness should be worn over winter clothing so that fall arrest rated attachment points are accessible, more visible for inspections, and there is less chance for clothing to interfere with buckles and attachment fittings.

Yes, but only if the scaffold will support the potential loadings, and the scaffold manufacturer approves such use. Ensure that connecting hardware incorporates hooks large enough to fully close and lock when attached to the scaffolding.


Employer mandated safe work practices or procedures that are designed to prevent exposure by signaling or warning an employee to avoid approaching a fall hazard (warning line, safety monitor, or safety watch).

An individual knowledgeable of fall protection equipment, including the manufacturer's recommendations and instructions for the proper use, inspection, and maintenance; and who is capable of identifying existing and potential fall hazards; and who has the authority to take prompt corrective action to eliminate those hazards; and who is knowledgeable of the rules contained in this part regarding the installation, use, inspection, and maintenance of fall protection equipment and systems.

A barrier consisting of a top rail and a mid-rail secured to uprights, and erected along the exposed sides and ends of platforms to prevent employees from falling to lower levels.

Changing the task, process, controls, or other means so as to remove the need for a person to be exposed to a hazard.

Fall protection that does not require the wearing or use of personal fall protection equipment (e.g., guardrails, walls).

A system used to slow and stop a person during a fall from an elevated location. It consists of an anchorage, connectors, a full body harness, and may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or suitable combinations of these. The use of a body belt for any fall protection is prohibited.

The technique of securing a person to an anchorage using a full body harness and a lanyard short enough to prevent the person’s center of gravity from reaching the fall hazard.

One who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience, has successfully demonstrated their ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project.