RR1145 - Evidence review of the effectiveness of soft landing systems for preventing injury from falls when working at height

Soft landing systems (SLS), sometimes referred to as fall arrest mats or bags, are generally either air-filled mats or soft-filled mats. They are fall arrest systems designed to mitigate the risk of injury to workers from falls from height through distances of up to about 2.5 metres. They began to be widely used in industry in the early 2000s. In use, they are laid on the ground or suspended beneath the working area. HSE inspectors have raised concerns about the effectiveness of SLS following observations that some duty holders were implementing these systems as the first choice of control against injury of workers in falls when working at height.

This report describes a review to establish what evidence is available about the risk of a person suffering personal injury from a fall onto a properly installed and maintained SLS. The review considers the scientific literature, incident reports made to HSE, and other sources. The evidence indicates that that when a person falls less than the rated fall arrest height, typically 2.3-2.7 m, onto a properly installed SLS : (1) the forces and deceleration associated with the impact are within tolerable levels for humans; and (2) the risk of injury is low when the SLS is of sufficient thickness to avoid bottoming out and the energy dissipation prevents bouncing. However, there is an increased risk of injury if: the person lands near the edge of the SLS; or there are physical obstructions in the fall trajectory; or if the falling person strikes other people or objects that have already fallen onto the SLS.

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Updated 2021-05-17